It was an entertaining, yet disappointing culmination to Ireland’s 2020 Six Nations campaign a week ago, as the Irish fell 35-27 to France in a game they needed to win to secure the title.
But there is no time to dwell on that loss, Ireland has to get right back to it next Friday against Wales to start the Autumn Nations Cup.
Andy Farrell took the reins last November as the newest head coach of Ireland, and thus far has compiled a 3-2 record and a third-place finish at Six Nations. The man he’s replacing – Joe Schmidt – won three Six Nations titles and a Grand Slam, so Farrell has some big shoes to fill.
He also has some big names to replace. With stalwarts like Rory Best, Devin Toner, and Rob Kearney moving on from international duty, and other key players like Jonny Sexton, Cian Healy, and Keith Earls getting on into their mid-30s, the door is opening for some fresh younger faces. It’s likely we’ll see some new stars emerge in the Autumn Nations Cup for Ireland.
Props: Finlay Bealham; Ed Byrne; Cian Healy; Andrew Porter; John Ryan
Hookers: Dave Heffernan; Rob Herring; Rónan Kelleher
Locks: Tadhg Beirne; Ultan Dillane; Iain Henderson; Quinn Roux; James Ryan
Flankers: Will Connors; Peter O’Mahony; Josh Van der Flier
No. 8’s: Caelan Doris; CJ Stander
Scrumhalves: Jamison Gibson-Park; Kieran Marmion; Conor Murray
Flyhalves: Billy Burns; Ross Byrne; Jonathan Sexton
Centers: Bundee Aki; Chris Farrell; Robbie Henshaw; Stuart McCloskey
Wings: Andrew Conway; Keith Earls; Hugo Keenan; James Lowe
Fullbacks: Shane Daly; Jacob Stockdale
Ireland has plenty of depth in the second row and in the back row, but where they can really make inroads this Autumn Nations Cup is all the way out wide with the wings. Andrew Conway and Keith Earls are about as reliable of servants as you’ll find on any international team; these are guys you can count on week in and week out to deliver strong defense, safe hands, hard running, and a nose for the whitewash.
What Ireland has now added are two more electrifying talents in the form of sevens flyer Hugo Keenan and newly-converted Kiwi James Lowe. Between the two Leinster men, Ireland now has an element of creativity and flair not seen before in the green colors.
Lowe and Keenan should open up the playbook for the Irish and provide that bit of magic it takes to win the big ones.
The departure of centurion hooker and long-time captain Rory Best has left a gaping hole in the Irish front row. Ireland has not had to worry about the #2 shirt in more than a decade, but now are in search of a steady hand to take over the job.
At present, Ireland’s three hookers in the squad have a combined 19 caps. Dave Heffernan and Rob Herring are both getting into their 30’s, so neither can realistically be looked at as a long-term option. Young Rónan Kelleher is only 22, however, and could be a great Best replacement down the line. How he goes in the Autumn Nations Cup will go a long way towards his development and confidence moving forward.
Ireland had a chance to win the Six Nations in their final match against France, but failed to get the job done. What they cannot do is wallow in the defeat; Andy Farrell and company need to look forward and wipe the slate clean.
They have a tricky pool to navigate, with huge road fixtures against Wales and England on the docket, so there is no time to lament on the past. A win in Round 1 vs Wales will be massive to the Irish confidence and belief for the rest of the Autumn Nations Cup, and could set them up for a run to the championship.
Wales vs Ireland – Nov. 13 | 2:00 PM ET
England vs Ireland – Nov. 21 | 10:00 am ET
Ireland vs Georgia – Nov. 29 | 9:00 am ET
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