Ireland’s Grand Slam winning campaign: Five things we learned from Six Nations triumph

Adapting to changing circumstance was one of Ireland’s standout achievements this year

Building depth for World Cup

Andy Farrell didn’t wish to talk about the World Cup during the Six Nations, but the Ireland coach is already looking ahead to France later in the year. In that respect he will be pleased with the way the Irish squad has replied to his call throughout the championship. Over 30 players were used (33 when Kieran Treadwell came on) throughout the five matches with Johnny Sexton, James Lowe, Robbie Henshaw, Garry Ringrose, Jamison Gibson-Park, Iain Henderson, Tadhg Beirne, Tadhg Furlong, Dan Sheehan and Rónan Kelleher all missing at one stage or another. With three friendly matches in August and a minimum of four pool games in France, it is a certainty that there are going to be more injuries to players. From an Irish viewpoint that is not going to be as insurmountable a problem as it has been in the past.

Size doesn’t always matter for New Ireland

Ireland might have discovered an effective way to play against teams with bigger packs. France had a larger and heavier front eight and when Ireland meet South Africa in their World Cup Pool B match in September, they will face bigger players again. But with the ball in play for a lengthy 46 minutes against France, the idea of keeping play alive for longer periods and as far as possible avoid having scrums may be the path to take. It worked in this Six Nations. Playing that way can be risky and demands the team to be super fit, which Ireland have been throughout the championship. The benefit is that it also makes for a better spectacle. Beating the Springboks by throwing the ball around and keeping it alive. The new Ireland.

The law is an ass

You might have heard Italian coach Kieran Crowley speak out about the refereeing during the championship and how it expressly hurt his side. As Italy pressed for a winning try against Scotland in their final match, a late decision could have again been triggering for the Kiwi. Italy had earned two penalties right on the Scotland line and should have had a third for offside. Instead, Scotland gained possession, raced up the field and scored a game-winning score. Refereeing throughout the championship has not been consistent, from the crucially missed penalties to referees debating what are clear red cards. Freddie Steward and Hugo Keenan – discuss. The World Cup is coming. People, who think they know the laws, are confused.

Bigger fish to fry

During the press conference after the final game against England in the Aviva Stadium, Farrell turned to his war-weary captain and said: “I’ve said to Johnny there is bigger fish to fry than this, you know.” Farrell was half-joking but there was also a thread of truth in what he said. Although it was far from a polished Irish performance against England, there has been a sea change in the Irish team’s ability to run with the pressure and deliver the outcome that people expect. His quip was also acknowledgment that he believes this team can achieve greater things at the World Cup in France and that he expects them to have the same view. Giving the players an appreciation of how good they are has been one of Farrell’s gifts.


Who’s next up at No 10?

Ireland have learned how important Johnny Sexton is and are about to learn how invaluable he was in less than a year’s time. Sexton clearly stated after the final game it was his last Six Nations match. What shape will Ireland take without him at outhalf? The smart money is Ross Byrne and Jack Crowley with Joey Carbery looking in from the cold and Ben Healy in Scotland. That Sexton is the all-time points scorer in the championship, having taken the record from Ronan O’Gara, shows how integral to Ireland the outhalf position has been for the team over the last two decades. When Brian O’Driscoll departed Ireland coped, Paul O’Connell and O’Gara too. Ireland will adjust and are already doing so. But who it will be is undecided.

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times