'He's got presence' - Farrell backs debutant Osborne

Jamie Osborne at training and Andy Farrell during his press conference
Osborne is usually deployed at centre for Leinster but Farrell has selected him at full-back [Getty Images & Inpho]

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell has backed Jamie Osborne after handing the Leinster player a surprise debut at full-back for Saturday's Test against world champions South Africa.

Osborne, 22, was given the nod in the 15 jersey despite having mainly played centre for Leinster.

But while Farrell has Jimmy O'Brien, Jordan Larmour and Jacob Stockdale as full-back options with Test experience, he says giving Osborne a run-out has been "in the pipeline for a while".

"When Jamie’s been in the squad on numerous occasions, he’s always filled in for us in all sorts of different positions, certainly at full-back as well as centre," Farrell told reporters in Johannesburg after naming his team on Thursday.

"Anyone who knows Jamie as a rugby player and his background as a junior coming through, a lot of it’s been in the 15 jersey."

Osborne has big boots to fill with first-choice Hugo Keenan - who is preparing for the Olympics with Ireland's sevens team - having starred under Farrell in recent years.

The debutant, who has started just two games for Leinster at full-back, will be tested at altitude at Loftus Versfeld Stadium on Saturday, with South Africa possessing some world-class kickers.

But Farrell is clearly confident in Osborne as he reeled off the player's attributes.

"His skillset is very interesting for us to see, how we use the skillset that he’s got," added the Englishman.

"He’s obviously going to add to our performance. From what I’ve seen lately in the back end of the URC [United Rugby Championship] season is that whenever he plays, he’s got presence, it doesn’t matter what position he plays.

"He suits the way we play, he’s bright, he gets himself on the ball a lot in an organising way. His communication is good and he’s accurate. He’s obviously got nice, soft hands and can play that way but also he can hit a line as well.

"To add to that, he’s deceptively very quick, good in the air, very athletic and he’s got a big left boot on him as well."

Craig Casey in Ireland training in Johannesburg
Craig Casey has just four Test starts to his name [Inpho]

Farrell's other big selection call saw him opt to start Craig Casey at scrum-half with the experienced Conor Murray on the bench.

Casey has 14 caps but this will be by far the biggest game the 25-year-old has started.

"He’ll see this as his big opportunity," said Farrell.

"He deserves it, he deserves the challenge to start a Test match like this and we’re looking forward to seeing how he drives the team forward."

Farrell also said he was never minded to stand in Keenan's way with the Leinster man opting to skip the tour as he chases an Olympic medal in sevens.

"I spoke to Hugo quite a bit," said Farrell.

"There’s no way that if somebody’s got a dream like that - now, don’t get me wrong, if 10 of them had a dream, there’s a different decision to be had!

"But when it was highlighted from the Sevens management that he was in their thinking, then the question goes to Hugo. If that was a dream of his to do that, there’s no way I would stand in his way."