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6 Nations

‘Johnny’s Legacy Will Be Passed Down’ – Farrell

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Jonathan Sexton dominated the number 10 jersey for a number of years, being at the helm for some of Irish Rugby’s greatest days, and his retirement post-Rugby World Cup has opened the door for a successor to emerge in this pivotal position.

Ireland’s selected Six Nations squad includes three out-half contenders, Jack Crowley, Harry Byrne and Ciaran Frawley, while Leinster’s Sam Prendergast has also been brought into camp as a training panellist.

Crowley, who turned 24 earlier this month, has the most international experience of the trio, boosting his Ireland caps tally to nine with three appearances off the bench during the World Cup.

The talented Munster play-maker started the November 2022 win over Australia, following up with his Six Nations debut as a replacement during the closing stages against Italy last February. He had 80-minute run-outs against both Italy and Samoa before the World Cup.

Like Crowley, the multi-skilled Frawley was part of the Emerging Ireland squad that played in the Toyota Challenge in South Africa in 2022. A few months prior to that, the Skerries man (26) toured New Zealand with the Ireland squad, starting both games against the Māori All Blacks.

Known for his versatility, he has lined out at full-back, out-half and inside centre for Leinster this season. His Ireland experience has included a start at number 10 for Ireland ‘A’ against the All Blacks XV, and he made his Test debut as a half-time replacement against Italy last August.

The younger of Leinster’s Byrne brothers, Harry has two Ireland caps to his name having made cameo appearances against the USA and Argentina in 2021. He was part of the Ireland squad that visited New Zealand the following summer, but a hamstring injury cut his tour short.

The 24-year-old, a classy operator since his Ireland Under-20 days, has had seven starts at out-half for Leinster so far this season. He returned from an ankle injury to help them overcome Leicester Tigers 27-10 last Saturday.

Frawley donned the number 10 jersey the previous week against Stade Francais at the Aviva Stadium, while Crowley has made nine starts for Munster to date during the 2023/24 campaign.

Asked about his options regarding Sexton’s replacement, Farrell said: “The lads that are in the squad, the three of them, and obviously Sam Prendergast is coming along with us for 10 days into the training camp before the first game.

Those lads have learnt off the best, they’ve been around Johnny over the last four or five years. A couple of them were at the same province as him.

“I know that Jack Crowley has been like a sponge with him over the last few years anyway. So, his legacy will be passed down, I have no doubt about that.

“Look, it’s obviously going to be difficult to replace a one-in-a-generation type player. But all good things come to an end, Johnny’s started a new career and we’ve got to make sure that we keep improving as a team.

“I’m sure he’ll be Ireland’s biggest number one fan on Friday week when we play France in Marseille.”

Competition for places is certainly ratcheting up with the Ireland squad switching training bases this week to Quinta do Lago in Portugal, making sure they are in prime condition to take on France in a mouth-watering Six Nations opener.

The Grand Slam success from last spring is far from Farrell’s mind as he focuses on a tough first round encounter, but he knows the capabilities of his squad, which is led by newly-appointed captain Peter O’Mahony and includes twelve players with 15 or less caps.

“I suppose you tend to forget about that (being defending champions) because it’s about preparation from here on in,” said the Wigan man, speaking at the Six Nations launch in the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin.

“I don’t think many people care if you’ve had six months’ preparation or five training sessions, which we’ve got leading into the game on Friday week.

“It’s all about how we get across our work, get down to business again and making sure that we build on the belief and confidence that we’ve had in the past.”

He added: “I think what we’ve done over the last couple of years is blood a lot of new players, not just young (players), new ones who have got a cap or two under their belt.

“We’ve also got a few that’s under ten caps, so we’ve a bit of growing there to do ourselves. We do that through the experience that we’ve gained together over the last four years, and that’s how we keep on growing.”

O’Mahony was also at the Six Nations launch, and Farrell described the Corkman as ‘a born leader and a natural fit for us’ in terms of his captaincy pedigree. He was already an established member of Ireland’s leadership group and an influential figure both on and off the pitch.

“Well, just being himself is good,” Farrell said of the new captain. “There’s some people that just make a room feel good just by being there, just by being themselves.

“I think that’s what needs to happen, to be authentic, to make sure that you’re being yourself and not somebody that you’re not. Some people have just got that, and Peter’s certainly one of them.”

Both men are looking forward to locking horns with France again. Last February’s duel at the Aviva Stadium, which saw Garry Ringrose’s brilliantly-finished try seal a 32-19 bonus point win for the hosts, was undoubtedly one of the games of the year.

France had beaten Ireland the last three times they had played each other, and that defeat in Dublin ended les Bleus’ 14-match winning streak. Farrell was defence coach when Sexton’s unforgettable drop goal decided the teams’ 2018 meeting in Paris.

That was also a first round fixture and the catalyst for Grand Slam glory that season, so there is a huge amount riding on next week’s result as both sides – the respective Grand Slam champions of 2022 and 2023 – aim for a momentum-building performance in Marseille.

“It being a home game (last year) we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to make sure that we delivered. From what I remember, it was an outstanding game. France are a fantastic team, how they’ve grown over the last four years,” acknowledged Farrell.

“The type of personnel that they’ve got and the type of game that they play, it’s fantastic to see. We were lucky enough to get over the line against them last year.

“First up on a Friday night in Marseille, it concentrates the mind as far as our preparation is concerned and we’ll look forward to seeing how we deal with that.

“With the Irish fans travelling and connecting like we know that they will, it’s going to be an exciting place to be, let’s put it that way.”

Images & Content from Irish Rugby & Images © Inpho Photography


6 Nations

Wales team to face Ireland in Dublin named

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Senior men’s head coach Warren Gatland has named the Wales side to face Ireland at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin in the third round of the 2024 Guinness Six Nations on Saturday 24 February (KO 2.15pm live on ITV and S4C).

There is one change to the starting XV that played England at Twickenham on 10 February, with Sam Costelow returning for Wales at fly half.

Among the replacements back-row Mackenzie Martin is in line to win his first senior cap this weekend and would become the 1,200th Wales men’s international.

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Tight-head prop Dillon Lewis would be making his first appearance of this Championship if called on from the bench.

Gatland said: “We are excited to go out to Dublin and test ourselves against one of the leading sides in world rugby. It’s a challenge we are relishing.

“We’ve made steps in the last couple of games and now it’s about building on that, learning from those experiences and taking that into this weekend.

“It’s about continuing to work hard, looking for accuracy in our performance across 80 minutes and also keeping our discipline.”

Wales senior men’s team to play Ireland at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin in the Guinness Six Nations, Saturday 24 February KO 2.15pm GMT. Live on ITV and S4C.
15. Cameron Winnett (Cardiff Rugby – 2 caps)
14. Josh Adams (Cardiff Rugby – 56 caps)
13. George North (Ospreys – 119 caps)
12. Nick Tompkins (Saracens – 34 caps)
11. Rio Dyer (Dragons – 16 caps)
10. Sam Costelow (Scarlets – 9 caps)
9. Tomos Williams (Cardiff Rugby – 55 caps)
1. Gareth Thomas (Ospreys – 27 caps)
2. Elliot Dee (Dragons – 48 caps)
3. Keiron Assiratti (Cardiff Rugby – 4 caps)
4. Dafydd Jenkins (Exeter Chiefs – 14 caps) Captain / Capten
5. Adam Beard (Ospreys – 53 caps)
6. Alex Mann (Cardiff Rugby – 2 caps)
7. Tommy Reffell (Leicester Tigers – 15 caps)
8. Aaron Wainwright (Dragons – 45 caps)

Replacements

16. Ryan Elias (Scarlets – 40 caps)
17. Corey Domachowski (Cardiff Rugby – 8 caps)
18. Dillon Lewis (Harlequins – 54 caps)
19. Will Rowlands (Racing 92 – 30 caps)
20. Mackenzie Martin (Cardiff Rugby – uncapped)
21. Kieran Hardy (Scarlets – 19 caps)
22. Ioan Lloyd (Scarlets – 4 caps)
23. Mason Grady (Cardiff Rugby – 8 caps)

Images & Content – Wales Rugby


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6 Nations

Jager and Ahern Join Ireland Squad Ahead Of Wales

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The Ireland squad re-assembled in Dublin on Sunday evening ahead of this weekend’s Guinness Men’s Six Nations Round 3 clash against Wales at Aviva Stadium (Kick-off 2.15pm).

Prop Oli Jager has joined the squad and Thomas Ahern has also linked up with Andy Farrell‘s side at the IRFU High Performance Centre this week.

Iain Henderson picked up a foot injury during Ulster’s URC game away to Ospreys on Sunday and there will be a further update later in the week.

The Ireland Match Day Squad to face Wales at Aviva Stadium will be named on Thursday at 2pm.

Ireland Squad – Wales Week: 

Backs (15):

Bundee Aki (Galwegians/Connacht)
Harry Byrne (UCD/Leinster)
Craig Casey (Shannon/Munster)
Jack Crowley (Cork Constitution/Munster)
Ciaran Frawley (UCD/Leinster)
Jamison Gibson-Park (Leinster)
Robbie Henshaw (Buccaneers/Leinster)
Hugo Keenan (UCD/Leinster)
Jordan Larmour (St. Mary’s College/Leinster)
James Lowe (Leinster)
Stuart McCloskey (Bangor/Ulster)
Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster)
Calvin Nash (Young Munster/Munster)
Garry Ringrose (UCD/Leinster)
Jacob Stockdale (Lurgan/Ulster)

Forwards (21):

Thomas Ahern (Shannon/Munster)*
Ryan Baird (Dublin University/Leinster)
Finlay Bealham (Buccaneers/Connacht)
Tadhg Beirne (Lansdowne/Munster)
Jack Conan (Old Belvedere/Leinster)
Caelan Doris (St. Mary’s College/Leinster)
Tadhg Furlong (Clontarf/Leinster)
Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster)
Iain Henderson (Academy/Ulster)
Oli Jager (Munster)*
Ronan Kelleher (Lansdowne/Leinster)
Jeremy Loughman (Garryowen/Munster)
Joe McCarthy (Dublin University/Leinster)
Peter O’Mahony (Cork Constitution/Munster)(captain)
Tom O’Toole (Ballynahinch/Ulster)
Andrew Porter (UCD/Leinster)
James Ryan (UCD/Leinster)
Dan Sheehan (Lansdowne/Leinster)
Tom Stewart (Ballynahinch/Ulster)
Nick Timoney (Banbridge/Ulster)
Josh van der Flier (UCD/Leinster)

*Denotes uncapped player

Images & Content from Irish Rugby & Images © Inpho Photography


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6 Nations

O’Connell Gives Update On Keenan As Ireland Return To Training

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Hugo Keenan is Ireland’s main injury concern ahead of Saturday week’s Guinness Men’s Six Nations clash with Wales. The ever-influential full-back took a blow to his left knee during the win over Italy.

Keenan sustained the injury when falling awkwardly in a 52nd-minute tackle from Italian replacement Giosuè Zilocchi. He was replaced shortly afterwards by Harry Byrne, with Jack Crowley switching to the full-back position.

The 27-year-old Dubliner has become central to Andy Farrell’s plans in a short space of time, with his 15s international debut coming just over three years ago. He has accumulated more match minutes than any other player so far during Farrell’s coaching reign.

He has started 38 of Ireland’s last 42 Test matches, and Jimmy O’Brien and Michael Lowry are the only other players who have worn the number 15 jersey during that time.

Asked about Keenan’s likely availability for the third round of the Six Nations, Ireland forwards coach Paul O’Connell said: “Hugo didn’t train today, but he hasn’t been ruled out for the Welsh game yet.

“He’s progressing with his rehabilitation, he was there at training today and took part in the organisational bits, but I have no full update. He’s still available for selection for Wales, but I’m not sure what will happen in the next few days.

“He plays a big role, he’s obviously been injury-free for a long time. He’s an excellent player and in full-back, covering the back-field defensively, he has a lot of work to do in attack as well, recreating our attack by moving side to side.

“There’s a lot of IP (intellectual property) there that we might miss out on if he wasn’t playing. He also plays a big leadership role for us, he’s a very smart guy.

“He’s a problem-solver within the group and highly regarded within the group. Whether he’s there or not, he’ll continue to play that role.”

Keenan has had a strong start to the tournament, with his individual highlights including his try-saving tackles on Damian Penaud, including one which drove the French dangerman back a few feet, and an electric break against Italy from Craig Casey’s kick over the top.

He has an 85.7% tackle success rate, including two dominant hits and a turnover tackle. In attack, he has had gain-line success with two-thirds of his carries in the Championship, and has the team’s best tackle evasion rate of 47.1%.

If the Leinster star is ruled out when Ireland resume their campaign next week, the versatile Ciaran Frawley, Jordan Larmour, Jacob Stockdale, Calvin Nash, or indeed Crowley, could be options to fill the full-back berth.

Larmour, who returned to international action last Sunday for the first time since 2021, made nine starts at full-back between 2018 and 2020. Farrell handed him the number 15 shirt for his first game in charge of Ireland four years ago.

Last August against Italy, Frawley made his debut as a half-time replacement for O’Brien at full-back. He has started six times in the position for Leinster this season, with Stockdale, Nash and Crowley also having provincial experience in the back-field.

As O’Brien and Mack Hansen are also injury-enforced absentees, O’Connell admits that it could provide an opportunity to build more depth in that area if Keenan is unable to recover in time.

“It’s good for us in some ways because it makes us play someone else there if he doesn’t make it,” commented the Limerick man, who is in his fourth Men’s Six Nations campaign as part of the Ireland coaching group.

“I’m not sure yet, I don’t pay as much attention to the backs, but I’m not sure yet where  Hugo is at. As I said, he was around training today, so we’d be hopeful.”

Meanwhile, Garry Ringrose is on track to play some part against Wales at the Aviva Stadium having returned to training. He missed the opening two rounds due to a shoulder injury.

“Yeah it looks like it, he trained today,” O’Connell said of Ringrose. “We didn’t do a massive session today but he trained today and was in good shape.

“No one else sat out training, no, so they’re all good to go, I believe.”

That includes captain Peter O’Mahony (calf), Tadhg Furlong (calf), and Bundee Aki (knee), who all sat out the 36-0 bonus point victory over Italy as they recovered from their respective knocks.

Images & Content from Irish Rugby & Images © Inpho Photography


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