It’s been something of a transitional period for Ireland under head coach Andy Farrell. After taking the reins from Joe Schmidt ahead of last year’s’ Six Nations, Farrell has been searching for consistency, but there have been some tentative signs that he is beginning to get the best out of his team.
Last year’s Six Nations wasn’t exactly a disaster for Ireland, indeed they were still in with a chance of winning the tournament heading into the final round of fixtures, albeit a slim one. But a third-place finish in the Six Nations and third place in the inaugural Autumn Nations Cup mean that success is perhaps not too far away, with just marginal improvements needed.
Now, with the Six Nations coming round once again, Ireland sit as third favourites in the latest Six Nations odds on winning the tournament, which is to be expected. But with a bit of momentum, and some good results to kick off the tournament, Ireland could well do some damage. After all, they won the Grand Slam as recently as 2018.
With that in mind, let’s assess each of Ireland’s fixtures and analyse whether another Grand Slam is truly beyond them.
Wales v Ireland
Playing Wales in Cardiff is usually an extremely difficult fixture, but you feel as though Farrell and his team will be relatively pleased with their first opponents. Wales have been in a bit of a rut since Wayne Pivac took over as head coach, and Ireland beat them at both last year’s Six Nations and the Autumn Nations Cup. While Wales must not be taken lightly, you’d consider Ireland favourites for victory at the Principality Stadium.
Ireland v France
France were something of a surprise package last year as their youthful side almost claimed a memorable Six Nations triumph, finishing behind champions England on points difference. France defeated Ireland in Paris in October, but this time around, Farrell may have learned from mistakes made in this match, and home advantage could make all the difference.
Italy v Ireland
Italy’s status as whipping boys in the Six Nations has never been more apparent than it is now. Having finished in last place for the previous five years, you’d expect nothing other than a convincing Ireland victory in Rome. Given that points difference played a key role in last year’s Six Nations, a big scoreline against Italy could be vital.
Scotland v Ireland
Ireland have come unstuck at Murrayfield in the past, and complacency must be guarded against at all costs. While Scotland are unlikely to be challenging for the title, they have plenty of weapons with which to hurt Ireland, and it’ll take a gutsy display to get the win in Edinburgh, particularly a bonus-point victory.
Ireland v England
The campaign comes to a close against England at the Aviva Stadium, and if both teams enjoy winning runs up until the Dublin fixture, it could prove to be a straight face-off for the Grand Slam. England are defending champions and favourites to win the tournament again this year, and Ireland haven’t beaten them since they sealed their 2018 Grand Slam success at Twickenham on St Patrick’s Day.
It may be a step too far to expect Andy Farrell’s side to win the Grand Slam, but if they can record a few wins and keep themselves in contention at least, then who’s to say there couldn’t be glory this year for Ireland?
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