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6 Nations

Sexton Enjoying Captaincy, But ‘It’s Still A Work In Progress’

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He may have 108 Ireland caps under his belt, but beginning an international week with 49 players in camp and two southern hemisphere sides to play at the weekend is a new experience for Jonathan Sexton.

Currently training at the IRFU High Performance Centre, the extended Ireland squad are gearing up for the Ireland ‘A’ team’s clash with the All Blacks XV on Friday, swiftly followed by the main course of Ireland against South Africa the following evening.

It is quite an exercise in logistics to get that many bodies out on the training pitch and ensure quality preparation for both the ‘A’ and senior teams, as the much-anticipated Bank of Ireland Nations Series gets ready for kick-off.

Like the summer tour when Ireland’s fringe players got game-time against the Māori All Blacks, it is a big collective effort and Sexton hopes they can reap the rewards from both fixtures at the RDS and the Aviva Stadium.

“The coaches did a good job,” he said of Tuesday’s well-populated training session. “I wasn’t envisaging how it was going to work, but they did it well in terms of we were almost rotating as teams.

“Almost four teams at the start into two. It was good, it was different. It’s a unique week. We had a unique experience in the summer and now we’ve got another one now with two matches going on. Big game Friday night and then a big game Saturday.

“So it’s good, it’s what we want. We don’t want anything to be the same because you get comfortable then and come the World Cup you’re not ready for anything changing. So, we’re testing ourselves and trying not to keep things too familiar.”

Ireland A Tickets On Sale

Following on from their historic series win in New Zealand, Andy Farrell’s men are back in the familiar surroundings of the Aviva Stadium, hoping to claim the scalp of the reigning Rugby World Cup champions like their predecessors did.

Ireland boast a proud record of defeating past Webb Ellis Cup holders between tournaments, with memorable victories over Australia (2002), England (2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007), South Africa (2009) and New Zealand (2016 and 2018).

Sexton was involved in those last three triumphs and as he enters the final year of his Test career, the 37-year-old says it still means so much to him to run out with the national team at Irish Rugby HQ.

Every time you get to play at home, in front of the Irish public and family and friends in the Aviva, they’re the most special days of your career.

“It’s something you never take lightly. Again, when you come towards the end (of your career), it’s even more special. You try and cherish it even more.

“But the nerves are still there, the excitement is still there. So it’s not that much different to how it usually is.”

The St. Mary’s College clubman got some decent match minutes into his legs with Leinster in recent weeks, including full games against both the Cell C Sharks and Munster.

He is looking forward to taking on South Africa for the first time since 2017, especially after missing out on last year’s British & Irish Lions tour. Of course, the sides’ Rugby World Cup pool game next year looms large on the horizon.

“I feel good. In the first two games of the season, you’re always expecting a couple of mistakes in a lot of parts of the game, and I definitely had them in the first couple of games.

“It’s important I learn from them, build on what was good and try to put it all together on Saturday. If we got a win on Saturday, it would be great. If we didn’t, we’d learn from it.

“We’re going to learn both ways, we’re going to learn about South Africa, see what it’s like to play against this type of team. We haven’t played against them in a few years. I think it’s what we need.

“They’re in our group obviously in the World Cup and we just need to make sure that we take learnings from it, win, lose or draw. But we’re going out there to try and win the game, don’t get me wrong.”

Sexton has been Ireland’s captain since the start of the Andy Farrell era in early 2020. His winning ratio as skipper is an impressive 78%, the highpoints so far coming this year with the Triple Crown and New Zealand tour success.

Always striving to improve as a player and a leader, he said: “I enjoy it (the captaincy). There is a lot of extra responsibility and extra meetings, making sure you’re on top of the leadership group, making sure you’re organising different things.

“If I didn’t have it, I’d miss it. At times you go, ‘do I need it?’, but yeah, I think I do. I’m enjoying it. It’s still a work in progress, I don’t think anyone’s ever going to be the perfect captain.

“There’s part of my leadership that I need to work on, and there’s parts that are good. It’s just about getting feedback and making sure you’re always striving to improve.”

The Dubliner, who has captained Leinster since 2018, admits he is fortunate to have a strong group of trusty lieutenants around him, a number of whom have captained their provinces or grown into leadership roles. He added:

I lean heavily on the guys around me. You work well as a team, there’s guys that have come out of themselves like Tadhg Furlong. He’s really come out of his shell over the last couple of years.

“He kind of got ‘put’ in the leadership group – I don’t think he wanted anything to do with it! – but he got put in there and he got forced into leading and he’s doing an amazing job.

James Ryan has captained Ireland, Garry Ringrose has captained Leinster, Iain Henderson captain of Ulster, Pete (O’Mahony) captain of Munster, so it’s a good group. It makes my job much easier, we do it as a team.”

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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