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Can Ireland Seriously Challenge for the Six Nations this Year?

Posted on January 06, 2021 by John Harris

Last year’s Six Nations Championship ended up being a rather strange one for each of the teams involved. As the tournament progressed, the threat of Covid-19 became ever clearer, and in the end much of the tournament was forced into postponement. In the end, England didn’t claim the title until October 31st, over seven months after the competition had originally been scheduled to finish.

For every team, it’s perhaps difficult to read too much into their performances at last year’s Six Nations. It’s fair to say that no particular team stood out, and even though England got their hands on the trophy, heading into the final round of fixtures any of three teams could have ended up winning it, with France and Ireland both in with a shout before England sealed the deal with a win over Italy.

In Ireland’s case, last year’s third-place finish is difficult to analyze given the unique circumstances surrounding their campaign. After all, it was Andy Farrell’s first Six Nations in charge after replacing Joe Schmidt as head coach, and the impact of the pandemic certainly didn’t help as Farrell tried to find his feet in the job.

There were some excellent performances from Ireland during the tournament, including a dominant defeat of Italy, a hard-fought win over Scotland, and a mature display to see off Wales in Dublin. When Ireland clicked last year, they were a joy to watch, as they often are, but the problem for Farrell was that he couldn’t get his team to produce the goods on a consistent basis.

Ireland’s defeats to England and France were what cost them the Championship, with a lacklustre showing at Twickenham in March followed by a defeat in Paris which was a free-scoring affair due to both sides needing high margins of victory to eclipse England’s superior points difference. It’s the performances in those games that Farrell will be keen to learn from and put right in the coming campaign.

But do Ireland have the quality to challenge the likes of England, France, and a no-doubt resurgent Wales this year? The Six Nations odds suggest that Ireland are third-favourites to win the title, but a decent showing in the recent inaugural Autumn Nations Cup could provide Farrell with a platform on which to build as he prepares his team for the Six Nations. 

England once again proved to be a stumbling block for Ireland, and defeat at Twickenham meant that they were forced to settle for a second-place finish in their group. Although they missed out on the final against France, Ireland performed well in the third-place play-off to defeat Scotland 31-16 and post a respectable third-place finish in the tournament. While it wasn’t always rip-roaring stuff – the 23-10 win over Georgia was a laboured affair at times – Farrell will be pleased with the progress his team have made.

Momentum is key when it comes to the Six Nations, and Ireland’s opening game against Wales in Cardiff will give us a clear indication about the visitor’s chances in the competition. Defeat on opening day always leaves an uphill task, and so Ireland will be giving everything to get the better of a side who will be hugely motivated to make up for last year’s poor showing in the Six Nations, and indeed a disappointing performance at the Autumn Nations Cup.

With a win against Wales to kick things off, Ireland could well summon the spirit that has brought them Six Nations success in the past.

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