CAPTAIN: Johnny Sexton
HEAD COACH: Andy Farrell
Ireland have been able to bring tighthead prop Tadhg Furlong into the squad, following his recovery from a long-term injury that meant he missed the Autumn Nations Cup, whilst the impressive Leinster pairing of flanker Will Connors and winger Hugo Keenan are again included; both have the quality to unsettle opponents, with Connors being particularly important in breakdown situations. There is also a return after injury for Leinster’s Jordan Larmour, who has proven to be one of the most important players in the Ireland squad in the last couple of years, and can operate at full-back or on the wing.
There is no doubting that Ireland are spoilt for choice in the pack, but their momentum and attacking threat all comes through back row CJ Stander. He is the one who drives them forwards, and carries a threat in and around the opponents’ try lines, constantly ending up on the scoresheet with a try or two. Now at the age of 30, the Munster back row forward has amassed 46 caps for his country, and is central to their attacking tactics. There is no doubting that he adds leadership and experience to the scrum, and is always involved somewhere in their good play.
Garry Ringrose is a very underrated player, often doing a lot of things that go unnoticed by others. He has pace and always finds spaces in opposing defensive lines, and that means that he is one of the players opposing teams must watch. His early exit from the Six Nations last year with injury meant his side were missing something in attack, even with the likes of Robbie Henshaw and Bundee Aki on the pitch, and that was the attacking presence that Ringrose brings. If the Leinster player is in form, Ireland always have a chance of winning the game, because he is that important to them.
Under new management in 2020, it wasn’t a disaster for Ireland, but they could have done better. They played some good rugby at times, and the continuation of Andy Farrell succeeding Joe Schmidt, having served as a coach under him previously, meant that the play wasn’t too different, and the players could adapt to it. However, we still saw areas for improvement, and their final finishing place of third was a good start for Farrell’s reign.
We mentioned in this analysis how third was a good placing for the 2020 Six Nations campaign for Ireland, but we now need to see progression from them, and continued improvement. There isn’t too much to work on, but if they can just turn everything up one notch more, then Ireland could be one of the teams to watch in this year’s tournament.