The Irish have a tough draw — 2019 champions South Africa and Scotland in their pool and then a potential quarter-final against New Zealand or France.
The Irish players and fans are painfully aware that when it comes to the World Cup they have come up short — never going beyond the last eight.
With 22 wins in their last 24 Tests, including a historic series win in New Zealand and now the Six Nations Grand Slam, they are in a very strong position to go the whole way.
Here AFP Sports picks out three ingredients that bode well for their chances in France later this year:
Inclusivity key to Farrell’s success
“I was chatting to Peter O’Mahony, everyone talks about how good an environment it is here, and it’s not rubbish,” commented veteran prop Dave Kilcoyne prior to the win over France.
Therein lies a powerful element in how Andy Farrell has built a formidable squad over four years — there is pain and disappointment but they are counter-balanced by inclusivity.
Farrell, 47, has spoken about being approachable, that his door is always open to the players.
“The best thing about him is he hasn’t changed one bit from going from assistant to head coach,” said Johnny Sexton following Ireland’s win over England to seal the Grand Slam.
“He’s still very popular, even with the lads he doesn’t pick.”
Under Farrell’s predecessor Joe Schmidt whilst they enjoyed success — the pinnacle the 2018 Grand Slam — the New Zealander never shook off habits formed as a school teacher and ran the squad with an iron fist.
The signs were there early on that Farrell was a man who was confident in the ‘journey’ he had mapped out and was unafraid to take tough decisions — highlighted by his taking off a clearly angry Sexton during the defeat to France in Paris in 2020.
Ruffled feathers have since been smoothed showing how adept Farrell is at man management which for an intense campaign like the World Cup is a priceless quality.
Toughing it out
A Grand Slam achieved with four bonus points wins from five and beating all their opponents by 13 points or more would appear to have been a walk in the park — it was anything but.
Andy Farrell admitted that only 10-9 up against a 14 man England side it was “squeaky bum” time — but once again they found a way to put themselves back on the right path.
This resilience came to the fore when they lost three players in the first-half against Scotland — “the whole team was laughing because it was organised chaos at half-time” said Farrell — and then their replacement hooker Ronan Kelleher before the 50th minute mark.
Prop Cian Healy had to fill in at hooker and flanker Josh van der Flier took the line-out throws — they still battled their way to a 22-7 win.
“As far as character and fight and want for each other, that’s the best game I’ve ever been involved in,” said Farrell.
This has been a characteristic of Farrell’s side, a strength that will stand them in good stead for the rigours of the World Cup
Spoilt for choice
Time was if Ireland lost a player from a starting XV the lack of depth left them exposed — as in the 2015 World Cup quarter-final when a side without the injured Johnny Sexton, Paul O’Connell and Peter O’Mahony were steam-rollered by Argentina.
Andy Farrell, though, has rectified that in his four years at the helm for aside from introducing the likes of now regular starters Caelan Doris, Jamison Gibson-Park and Mack Hansen he has also a welter of options.
A case in point is second row forward Ryan Baird — fourth choice at the outset of the tournament the 23-year-old was given the starting role against England due to injuries to Tadhg Beirne and Iain Henderson.
He did not flinch and produced a crucial turnover in the second-half which lifted the spirits of his team-mates.
“I thought he was immense in that second-half,” said Farrell.
For Johnny Sexton that type of performance adds to the competition for places at the World Cup which can only be a positive.
“That’s what we need come World Cup time. We need 40-45 players all at the same level fighting for positions.”
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