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Ireland look to 'perfect opportunity' of New Zealand tour after sealing Triple Crown

Johnny Sexton believes Ireland have great potential with the 2023 World Cup in view.

Jamison Gibson-Park and Josh van der Flier.
Jamison Gibson-Park and Josh van der Flier.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

ANDY FARRELL AND his coaching staff will enjoy taking a breather over the coming days as they unwind after what has been an enthralling Six Nations with more ups than downs. It’s not long until they will be in the thick of an intense tour of New Zealand. 

France will wake this morning as Grand Slam winners but Ireland were able to toast a Triple Crown success in Dublin last night.

Their first bit of silverware under Farrell is welcome, and Ireland can also point to four bonus-point wins out of five games in this Six Nations, their first victory in Twickenham since 2018, and a second-half fightback in a narrow defeat away to France as indicators of a good championship.

It certainly hasn’t been perfect, as Ireland themselves pointed out after their 26-5 bonus-point win over Scotland yesterday, a game which included plenty of errors from the Irish players.

The exciting thing is that even with major improvements under Farrell over the past year, Ireland have scope for much better. This group believe they are only really scratching the surface of their potential. 

What better place to attempt to unearth more of their maximum ability than in New Zealand this summer? Ireland are heading there for a three-Test tour that is also set to include two midweek games.

Farrell is expected to bring a squad of around 40 players, meaning we are likely to see more of fringe players like Gavin Coombes and Robert Baloucoune, who weren’t able to force their way into a matchday 23 during this Six Nations. 

the-ireland-team-lift-the-triple-crown Ireland celebrate their Triple Crown. Source: Ben Brady/INPHO

We will also get to see how Ireland handle the pressure of facing the All Blacks on Kiwi soil with Ian Foster’s side having a huge point to prove after losing in Dublin last November.

“It’s massive,” said Farrell last night of Ireland’s tour to New Zealand. “It’s the perfect opportunity that we need. We’ve talked time and time again about the lack of touring. It’s priceless.

“It looks like we’re able to take a slightly bigger group which is great. There’s people that’s already had a sniff. Some people that’s not had a game but we want to see them under pressure and going to New Zealand there will be no pressure like it.

“It’s the perfect opportunity for us to find out more about ourselves.”

Captain Johnny Sexton echoed Farrell’s words when speaking about the tour to New Zealand as “the biggest test in rugby right now.”

The captain’s message last night was that Ireland must keep getting better. He sees huge room for growth in this Irish team, who have been open about their ambitions for the 2023 World Cup.

“We’ve got great potential, haven’t we?” said Sexton.

“That’s what we have at the moment and we’ve got to make it a reality and we’ve got to keep building over the next 18 months.

“We’ve started talking about it already that this is the journey, which is a different approach to previous management that I’ve worked under which I think is the right way to do it. We’re confident in the journey we’re on.

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cian-healy-and-tadhg-furlong-at-the-end-of-the-game Tadhg Furlong and Cian Healy after Ireland's win. Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

“But at the moment it’s only an opportunity. We need to keep developing. We had some young guys in during the week who were incredibly impressive and we’ve had some young guys in through the last year who have been incredibly impressive.

“We need to bring them up to speed and make sure they’re ready in 18 months’ time.

“We’ll get a few bolters, I think, guys that can make a huge difference and that’s what we need over the next 18 months to make the squad stronger and better. I’m sure that’s what Andy will be doing and we’re relying on the leadership to do too.”

So, plenty to be excited about in the future for this Ireland team.

Last night, though, it was all about celebrating a good Six Nations. While England couldn’t do them a favour as France claimed the Grand Slam, Sexton and co. were delighted to secure the Triple Crown.

“It’s a very tight bunch,” said Sexton. “We have come from some low times. It’s only a few years ago we were being written off.

“The coach was being written off, the captain was being written off. and the team was being written off. It’s pretty fickle, sport, isn’t it?

“So we will keep our feet grounded because we know how fickle it is. I’m just proud to be part of this group. It is a very special atmosphere in here now.” 

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Murray Kinsella

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