| 6°C Dublin

green shoots I think Ireland left a huge chance to do something special in the Six Nations behind them

Andy Farrell needs to build on what happened last weekend against England

Close

James Lowe of Ireland celebrates with team-mates Chris Farrell, left, and Will Connors

James Lowe of Ireland celebrates with team-mates Chris Farrell, left, and Will Connors

James Lowe of Ireland celebrates with team-mates Chris Farrell, left, and Will Connors

THERE’S a part of me wishes that the Six Nations was just starting next weekend.

Not only because I love the tournament so much, but also because I think Ireland left a huge chance to do something special behind them this year.

When you see how well the team played against Scotland and England you wonder why we didn’t play like that against France and Wales.

There were, of course, valid reasons why we didn’t. Peter O’Mahony’s sending-off against Wales and subsequent three-match ban was a huge blow to our cause.

There was the fact that we could not call on a truly world-class prop, a fully match-fit Tadhg Furlong, for those first two games. Tadhg only came on as a sub in each match.

There was also the fact that Paul O’Connell was only bedding in to his role as forwards coach.

We saw by the end of the Six Nations just how much work he had done as Ireland’s line-out blew away their Scottish opposition and clearly got the better of the English set-piece.

I’ve no doubt Paulie’s influence will become more obvious in future Irish matches.

There were other issues, too, in the background.

Close

England's Johnny May and Joe Launchbury compete for the ball in the air with Keith Earls

England's Johnny May and Joe Launchbury compete for the ball in the air with Keith Earls

England's Johnny May and Joe Launchbury compete for the ball in the air with Keith Earls

Now this is a bit rich, maybe, coming from someone who got more than a few Irish caps as part of a hugely dominant Munster pack playing with lads like Keith Wood, Peter Clohessy and the late, great Anthony Foley.

But I didn’t like the idea of an all-Leinster back-line for one match this season.

Look, if Ireland coach Andy Farrell believed they were the best seven players for the positions from nine to 15, then go with it.

But we are ‘the four proud provinces of Ireland’, as the song goes, and we all contribute a bit to the cause. I know that a lot of Munster people looked at the Irish team to play Italy last month and saw Dave Kilcoyne as the only player born in the southern province. That sort of stuff still matters in Irish rugby.

Sunday World Newsletter

Sign up for the latest news and updates

This field is required This field is required

We are the sum of our small parts and we are better when we all play our part.

When will we play again in Green at all? We now know the Lions Tour is going ahead, but there’s still no word on whether Ireland are off to the South Pacific in June and July.

We’re down to play three Tests then against Fiji, Samoa and Tonga. But in these Covid times, will the summer tour happen?

If the Irish trip doesn’t go ahead, Farrell won’t have an Irish squad together again until early November.

And the plan for that month is that the All Blacks are coming to Dublin – who would just have finished playing in the Rugby Championship Down Under.

To get ready for that awesome challenge the Irish coach will want to have to taken his team to the Pacific Islands, even minus nine or ten lads who will be with the Lions.

But that will give Farrell the chance to continue the Test-match education of the likes of Ryan Baird and Craig Casey and bring into the Irish set-up lads like back-rowers Gavin Coombes (Munster) and Scott Penny (Leinster).

And also Leinster out-half Harry Byrne and the flying Ulster winger Robert Balacoune. They are just four lads, and there are more the Irish boss could call on who come immediately to mind as having been a bit raw for the Six Nations, but who are now ideal lads to blood on a summer tour.

Given the age profile of them all, early 20s, any or all of them could be key men at the next World Cup in two and a half years’ time.

Close

Jacob Stockdale breaks away to score against England

Jacob Stockdale breaks away to score against England

Jacob Stockdale breaks away to score against England

It’s something I’m sure Andy Farrell will take note of. For international rugby waits for no team and no player.

We’ve seen that with England over the past two months.

They got to the World Cup final in November 2019, and the ages of the players at the time suggested that, as a group, they were more or less going to be together until France 2023 and be a dominant force in all that time.

Instead, England are now picking up the pieces of a disastrous Six Nations in which they lost to Scotland, Wales and Ireland.

If they don’t do well in November, when Australia and the world champions South Africa are due to visit Twickenham, then Eddie Jones may not have much of a future as England coach.

The game moves on all the time. A tactic that worked, and a player that worked this season, might not be any good to you in 12 months’ time.

Mind you, there’s no harm turning back the years now and then and pulling an old trick out of the book.

Keith Earls’ try against England reminded me of years and years ago when we had 6’ 6” Mike Gibson, not the great centre, the No 8, playing at the back of our line-out.

That Mike Gibson was just about unbeatable in the air, and we’d do the sort of over-throw routine that Jack Conan did last weekend and big Gibson would pluck it out of the sky or palm the ball off to the scrum-half I don’t know if Paul O’Connell spent his lockdown watching old black and white film of Irish international matches at Lansdowne Road in days gone by.

But it wouldn’t surprise me if he dreamed up Earls’ try from watching one such game. Because we’ve used that one before lads!

Beating England, and in style too, was a great finish to our campaign.

It just left me wanting more as Andy Farrell tries to take this Irish team from the last World Cup to one that could do something at the next celebration.

Where, remember, if we get out of the group, Ireland almost certainly will play the All Blacks or the hosts France in our glass ceiling match that is the quarter-final.

Yes, Andy needs to build on what happened last weekend – and for that he really needs the summer tour to go ahead.

Eight months without seeing any of his Irish players in a camp before a game will cost us all the momentum gained from the great win with which we finished the 2021 Six Nations.

Download the Sunday World app

Now download the free app for all the latest Sunday World News, Crime, Irish Showbiz and Sport. Available on Apple and Android devices


Top Videos





Privacy