Ireland's Ryan Baird. Ben Brady/INPHO

Baird can aim for bigger role with Ireland after strong Six Nations

The Leinster forward featured in all five of Ireland’s games and made a big impact.

WITH BACK-TO-BACK Six Nations titles in the bag, it will be fascinating to see how Andy Farrell’s Ireland team evolves over the next year as they face into a highly challenging fixture list.

Ireland will be back on the pitch in July for two huge Tests in South Africa before welcoming New Zealand, Argentina, Fiji and Australia to Dublin in November.

One man who will certainly look to play a bigger part over that testing run of games is Ryan Baird.

The versatile Leinster forward had a somewhat frustrating experience at last year’s World Cup, playing a total of 45 minutes off the bench across two pool games, but responded by going on an eye-catching run of form with Leinster.

It left him primed to push for more minutes in the Six Nations and the 24-year-old featured in all five of Ireland’s games, starting the round two defeat of Italy and coming off the bench in the other four fixtures.

As Farrell moved to a 6/2 bench split for the first time, Baird was a valuable option covering both the back row and second row. The Leinster player can play both positions but it appears his long term home will be in the back row, and with Peter O’Mahony’s international future up in the air, he will be pushing hard for the six shirt when Ireland tour South Africa this summer.

The 6’6″, 104kg Dubliner is known for his athleticism and used his wide skillset to make a big impact off the bench throughout the tournament.

It started on the opening night in France, where Baird came on for the final quarter and played his part in a strong end game from the visitors, making three big carries.

In the below example, his handling and footwork allowed him turn a potential missed pass into a positive gain for Ireland.

Carry v France

A minute later he went full stretch to claim a lineout throw deep in the French 22.

Lineout win v France

The subsequent maul saw Rónan Kelleher drive over for Ireland’s fifth try of the night.


Baird’s lineout work was strong through the Six Nations. In the below example against Wales, he does well to adjust his body in the air and secure possession – one of his three lineout wins on the day.

Lineout v Wales

He was strong on the defensive side too, disrupting this France lineout with the clock in the red in Marseille before Ireland get in to turnover the ball and end the game, sealing a famous win.

Lineout steal v France

Baird’s aerial ability proved useful in open play too, rising highest to claim this dropping ball under pressure against Italy – a game in which he was also excellent at the lineout, winning three and stealing one.

Air v Italy

Remarkably, the fourth round loss to England was Baird’s first defeat in Test rugby, having been on the winning side in all of his 18 previous caps.

On a disappointing day for Farrell’s men in Twickenham, Baird didn’t get on the pitch until the 68th minute, entering the action following Peter O’Mahony’s spell in the sin-bin.

One of his first involvements was this tackle on England fullback George Furbank. Baird shows good technique to get in low on Furbank, allowing Rónan Kelleher and Andrew Porter move in to win a penalty. 


It’s an important moment as Ireland then go to the corner, win the lineout and strike for James Lowe’s second try, which puts the visitors ahead with less than 10 minutes left to play. 

Baird then got 25 minutes off the bench in the championship-sealing win against Scotland, coming on for second row Joe McCarthy and getting through a huge amount of work around the breakdown.

Clearout v Scots

Another good example of his workrate came with Scotland applying some late pressure, Baird reacting well to race back and make the tackle on George Horne.

Tackle v Scots

Baird also made two important carries as Ireland ran down the clock to wrap up the win. 

The first was a short, hard carry with just over 20 seconds remaining. 

Short carry v Scots

He then got back to his feet to make the final carry of the game, doing well to get past the first tackle before presenting clean ball to Conor Murray, who duly ends the game.

Short carry 2 v Scots

Baird also had a couple of opportunities to showcase his excellent footwork against Scotland, running into traffic here after managing to sidestep the first defender.

Step v Scots

And that’s Baird’s biggest point of difference. The former St Michael’s man has excellent speed and footwork for a forward, and made a series of trademark rampaging runs throughout Ireland’s campaign.

There was this memorable break against Italy. It initially looks like Baird might carry into contact from Caelan Doris’ short pass, but he instead punches through a gap and breaks upfield. 


After making significant ground, Baird again uses his footwork to earn some extra yards rather than carrying into contact – resulting in a 35-metre territory gain for Ireland.

Charge v Italy close

Baird is a dangerous runner off the shoulder, and Doris almost sent his teammate through again against Wales – only for Baird to be stopped by a good low tackle.

Gap v Wales

On his next attempt Baird did break the Wales defence, surging upfield to carry Ireland from their own 22 into the Welsh half.


After collecting a smart offload from Kelleher, a strong fend sets Baird off. It’s a promising counter but unfortunately Baird misplaces his pass to Jamison Gibson-Park.

Charge 2 v Wales close

Ireland manage to keep possession and just 10 seconds after that lung-busting effort, Baird is on hand to punch through again.

Charge 3 v Wales

However this time three Wales defenders combine to ground Baird and strip the ball from him. In his 26 minutes against Wales, Baird beat four defenders, won three lineouts and made 11 tackles.

Charge 3 v Wales close

The missed pass to Gibson-Park was a frustrating one but there were other instances of Baird showing good hands under pressure, including this nice pass out the back to Craig Casey against Italy.

Pass v Italy

And this lovely tip-on pass during the passage of play that led to Bundee Aki’s disallowed try against Wales.

Hands v Wales

The score was crossed off due to a knock-on from Henshaw, shown below, but Baird reacts well to keep the move alive. 

Hands v Wales close

It’s a shame the score didn’t stand as it’s really smart play from Baird, who played an important part in Ireland’s title defence.

Strangely, Baird actually played more minutes in last year’s championship despite featuring in less games – coming off the bench to clock up 158 minutes in the 2023 Six Nations. This year he totalled 145 minutes but felt like a much more prominent figure for the team.

Speaking after Saturday’s defeat of Scotland, Baird admitted this title win felt more satisfactory than last year’s Grand Slam success, where he found himself lingering over some individual errors in the final game against England.

“I struggled to enjoy it last year because of some of the mistakes I made in the game and it kind of ruined it for me,” Baird said.

“Only when we lost [to England] last week, and I was back home, my Mom had framed the Maro Itoje jersey for me for Christmas, I just remembered how special that was and how hard those are to win.

“So when the final whistle went [v Scotland] I’d made a few mistakes in the game – I had given that penalty away, which I was frustrated with, but I had done some good stuff as well – I put that aside.

“I made the last carry and I remember being on the ground as the ball was being kicked out and I thought ‘you know what, appreciate the last eight weeks of hard work you have put in, appreciate the time you spent with your teammates’.

“It didn’t give me a crazy high, it just gave me a satisfaction. Yeah, I worked hard, we all worked hard.”

With a more positive experience now under his belt, he should be approaching the South Africa tour with real ambitions of breaking into the starting team.

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