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HomeSportsIreland: Six Nations Preview

Ireland: Six Nations Preview


February 2, 2023

Irish rugby is in excellent health. Freed from the controversies that bog down their homelands, they step into the Six Nations on a well-deserved pedestal. World number one Ireland may lack the glamor of their French counterparts, but they are ruthlessly efficient, masters of detail, precise and coherent. Their ranking is a testament to their continued excellence. But we said all those things in 2019, right? Can Ireland handle the weight of expectation it has created?

2022 was a stellar year for Ireland, with the highlight being a magnificent historic series win in New Zealand. Ireland have become something of a bogeyman for the All Blacks, having won four of their last six meetings. The Irish also won all three autumn caps, including victories against South Africa and Australia. Ireland never really got out of second gear in the autumn and despite being involved in two close games there never felt like they were going to lose. A sign of a good team is that they can win when they’re not at their best and Ireland certainly showed that in the autumn. The only minor disappointment of 2022 was France’s win for the Six Nations title, which will see them fight for glory again this year.

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So what makes Ireland the best in the world? Ireland is ruthlessly efficient; Every facet of their game is executed with great precision. They dominate the contact zone, both offensively and defensively. Ireland’s game is designed to create fast balls; Your clearance work and ball presentation are outstanding. As Leinster has shown over the past few weeks, fast balls can wipe out any defence. Ireland’s attack is extremely fluid, with multiple phasing options creating multiple options for the ball carrier and giving opponents a headache. Defensively, their line speed is breathtaking while there is no better side in world rugby at the Collapse. The Ireland team has an abundance of poachers, the king being World Rugby’s Player of the Year Josh van Der Flier. Speed, skill and physicality are the foundations of the Irish game, combined with excellent decision making and calculated ruthlessness.

The Ireland squad contains a strong mix of youth and experience, with players mentally hardened from their last World Cup year when the wheels went off spectacularly. The Irish have relatively few injuries, a testament to how well their players are looked after by the IRU, although Robbie Henshaw will be badly absent. Two of their key players, evergreens Jonny Sexton and Tadhg Furlong are expected to be fit. Sexton’s influence on the team cannot be underestimated; As impressive as Ross Bryne was in the fall, Sexton takes the Irish to another level. Furlong is equally important, not only for her set pieces, but also in the loose where his skillful handling and ability to act as a pivot are crucial to her attacking play. It’s a side that should ooze confidence, especially their Leinster side who are undefeated this season.

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Ireland kicks off its campaign with a trip to Cardiff. Welsh rugby is in turmoil but Gatland will have their troops mobilized and they will relish being the underdogs. However, if Ireland fulfills its potential, they should deal with the Welsh fairly easily. The following week is the big one as they welcome France to the Aviva. In a painful encounter, Ireland paid the price for an undisciplined first half in defeat in Paris last year. It’s an intriguing contest with two sides that are destructive in different ways; Ireland, with their patient multi-phase play, are waiting to exploit weaknesses in the opposition’s defense against a French side who are devastating in the transition phase. Ireland could be looking to take on France from the air, an area where England revealed some gaps last year. Scotland and Italy should pose little threat before they end the tournament at home against England, potentially sealing a Grand Slam in the process.

Nothing short of a Grand Slam will do for Ireland; With a World Cup looming, they’ll be keen to show their rivals that they won’t make a mistake this time. Ireland fell off the horse in 2019 but this feels like a much better side as it takes the accuracy and precision of the Schmidt era and adds a dose of Andy Farrell’s Nordic bravery. The Ireland squad is well balanced, with several players at the peak of their careers. Another Grand Slam for Jonny Sexton? I wouldn’t bet against it.

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