Ireland To Dominate Six Nations From Start To Finish
Ireland To Dominate Six Nations From Start To Finish
Ireland enter the 2023 Guinness Six Nations as red hot favourites and will look to get one over many of their World Cup opponents most notably France.
Coach: Andy Farrell
Captain: Jonathan Sexton
Home Stadium: The Aviva Stadium
At undoubtedly its highest point since 2018, Irish Rugby enters the 2023 season as one of the favourites to lift both the Guinness Six Nations and Rugby World Cup.
Yet as every Irish fan knows only too well, World Cup years have never been kind to the men in green.
Faltering time and again in the biggest moments, the fact that Ireland has yet to clear the Quarterfinal point at a World Cup is simply shocking.
Despite history being against them, this Irish team has a different feel to the Golden generations that have gone before them.
Looking back to the 2007 Rugby World Cup, Ireland has entered each tournament since as one of the betting favourites. Built on successes in the Six Nations and Autumn test series, Ireland’s ability to consistently deliver strong performances became arguably one of their biggest flaws.
Unable to take the next step when the game’s global showpiece came about, the same tired narratives would be rolled out. Players being past their prime, a lack of depth and an over-emphasise of Six Nations’ success have all been used as excuses for failure.
Yet what was missing was a true acknowledgement that in crunch situations, Ireland had often not delivered. Many a Grand Slam had slipped by whilst several Southern Hemisphere series losses were put down to fatigue.
Sure the 2018 vintage beat all before them, a Six Nations Grand Slam was followed by a 2 – 1 series win in Australia. Throw in victories over the All Blacks and Springboks and suddenly Ireland looked like world beaters.
Unfortunately for Joe Schmidt’s side, this success was taken out on a credit card of undeniable physical dominance, military-like organisation and a robotic game plan that was hard to beat.
Yet when the bill came due and the Irish game plan was figured out, Ireland was left emptying their pockets and scratching their heads without any semblance of a Plan B.
So why then would this Irish team be any different from those that have gone before them?
Unlike previous Irish sides, this team has proven its ability to adapt on the fly, adjust according to their opposition and crucially weather storms.
Built on three years of gradual improvements, the Irish game plan is a continually evolving map that can take a multitude of routes. Thus, the fear that this Irish side will arrive at the World Cup stale and worked out by their opponents does not fit the image shown over the previous three seasons.
2022 Tale Of The Tape
A 2 – 1 series win in New Zealand, a country where they had never beaten their hosts on their own turf showed so much about this Irish squad’s mentality.
Having lost the opening test quite convincingly from a scoreboard standpoint, alarm bells could have been rung and the white flag raised as many a great Irish side has done in the land of the long white cloud.
All of the noises coming out of the Irish camp was that despite a 42 – 19 loss they were not far off the All Blacks.
Whilst many laughed at this assessment, Ireland stuck to their guns and did the impossible by making New Zealand look very average in front of their home supporters.
Andy Farrell’s side could’ve been forgiven for kicking back and resting on their laurels. Instead, they kicked on and closed out an undefeated Autumn Nations Series against tough opposition.
Perhaps most pleasing for Farrell and his coaching staff was the manner in which Ireland morphed from a free-flowing end-to-end attacking side during the Six Nations and All Blacks series. To a physically dominant hard-nosed bully in their November victories over the Wallabies and Springboks.
Looking back to the 2022 Six Nations, their sole loss away in Paris could also be viewed through a prism of positivity. Despite being roundly beaten up physically, Ireland came within a score of France and likely would’ve emerged victorious given five more minutes.
Arguably the most well-rounded side in the world at the time of writing, Ireland’s ability to adapt like a primed boxer to what their opposition is doing is a marvel to behold.
In addition to this ability is their incredible strength-in-depth outside of perhaps Flyhalf and Tighthead prop. In defence of the Flyhalf and Tighthead back-ups, when you are sitting behind two of the very best in the World in Jonathan Sexton and Tadhg Furlong opportunities to shine are limited.
Elsewhere on the team sheet, Ireland is feasibly three players deep at every position whilst the versatility of several players only adds to this depth.
Even with the depth of players and any changes in personnel, every player in the Irish squad appears to be singing from the same hymn sheet leading to a cohesive and confident squad.
Take for example Josh van der Flier, the reigning World Player Of The Year is the absolute first choice. But should he pick up an injury, there are at least five options available to Farrell that would see Ireland not miss a beat.
This, therefore, ensures that Ireland will remain competitive for a full tournament irrespective of injuries in most positions.
As touched upon above, flyhalf remains an area of concern should Jonathan Sexton go down.
Joey Carbery appears to have fallen out of favour with the Irish management and faces a tough battle to fight his way back in before the World Cup.
Current back-ups Ross Byrne and Jack Crowley offer two very different skill sets in the back-up role.
Byrne is a steady eddy, unwavering in the face of pressure. When it comes to kicking a crucial goal, putting his team in a strong field position or allowing those around him to excel he has shown real growth over the past three seasons.
For all of his positives, Byrne is limited and does not pose the same attacking threat as the other options available to Farrell. This could prove to be his undoing and could open the door for a Carbery return as well as another battle with his brother Harry and Leinster teammate Ciaran Frawley down the line.
Crowley on the other hand looks to be the real deal albeit raw. At 23 years old, he would appear to be the future of the position for both Munster and Ireland.
Telling it is however that Farrell has opted for the Stability of Byrne from the bench for the opener against Wales.
Farrell may well opt to blood the two throughout the tournament perhaps even giving them both a start.
At 37 years old, Sexton remains truly world-class but relying on his fitness is Ireland’s biggest concern in 2023.
Given that odd years are supposedly favourable for Ireland given that both France and England must travel to Dublin, a Grand Slam is very much on the cards this season.
Wales up first is absolutely a potential banana skin that could derail title hopes but in reality, the Gatland factor seems to be getting overblown in the media.
Having roundly dominated both Scotland and Italy for what feels like an eternity, this should continue again in 2023.
England does not seem to have the same firepower as the side that put Ireland on a downward spin. Unlike 2019, Ireland has the players to match the power game of most teams and has shown the ability to transition to an up-tempo game to offset any deficiencies.
Psychologically the biggest hurdle will be France given they have lost the last three encounters between the two.
Prior to that Ireland had beaten Les Bleus six in the previous seven encounters and will want to regain the mental edge before their potential meeting at the World Cup.
With this all being said, it is tough to see Ireland losing any games in the Championship and on current form any this year. Thus a Grand Slam title will see Ireland through to the World Cup with their number-one ranking intact.
Forwards: Ryan Baird, Finlay Bealham, Tadhg Beirne, Jack Conan, Gavin Coombes, Caelan Doris, Tadhg Furlong, Cian Healy, Iain Henderson, Rob Herring, Ronan Kelleher, Dave Kilcoyne, Joe McCarthy, Peter O’Mahony, Tom O’Toole, Andrew Porter, Cian Prendergast, James Ryan, Dan Sheehan, Josh van der Flier
Backs: Bundee Aki, Ross Byrne, Craig Casey, Jack Crowley, Keith Earls, Jamison Gibson-Park, Mack Hansen, Hugo Keenan, Jordan Larmour, James Lowe, Stuart McCloskey, Conor Murray, Jimmy O’Brien, Jamie Osborne, Garry Ringrose, Johnny Sexton (c), Jacob Stockdale
Written by Philip Bendon
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