Garry Ringrose and Irish confidence herald World Number One side’s quest

Garry Ringrose and Irish confidence herald World Number One side's 2023 quest

Triumph for hosts Ireland, with Garry Ringrose and others fine display. This is especially true when highlighting how this current playing group is succeeding with higher confidence in the 2023 Guinness Six Nations tournament. It is a confidence Ireland that rarely could ever validate. Yet validated now, where Irish Rugby is once again the ‘most ambitious team in Europe’.

Once again reaching the heights of the ‘Brian O’Driscoll era’ to display the side’s recent consistency. A winning streak at their Dublin home which was unbroken by France – who most expected to trouble the Irish base. They did not, with French media claiming the King of the World is Irish.

Playing some of the most exact rugby union in the history of the current competition, Ireland is on a quest in 2023 to show their number one ranking is fair and due. And in a somewhat balanced game, the early advance from Ireland could not be regathered in from a French team that was not at their most skillful themselves. A single-try reward for Le Bleus might be more so as resulting from a stiff Irish defence, smothering the controlled application by the visitors.

France was surprised by Ireland’s purpose of scoring in this fixture, which saw the host’s number 13 Garry Ringrose cross late in the game. Captain Johnny Sexton claimed after the match, “It’s been clear from the start, what we want to achieve,” Sexton maintained. “It goes unsaid but everyone knows what we want to do. We won a Triple Crown last year but we want to go better this year.”

“That’s what we speak about, to keep going on a trajectory like this as opposed to 2019 when we dipped. So, to get better is to win a Championship or a Grand Slam”.

Ireland 32 – Tries: Hugo Keenan, James Lowe, Andrew Porter, Garry Ringrose; Conversions: Jonathan Sexton (2), Ross Byrne; Penalty; Sexton, Byrne

France 19 – Try: Damian Penaud; Conversion: Thomas Ramos, Pens: Ramos (3); Drop goal: Ramos.

It was a great result, that sets up two further fixtures to determine the best team in the Six Nations. Yet, before Ireland v Scotland, and then England, looking at the last two matches shows the influence of men like Ringrose, Porter, and others contribute.

Garry Ringrose and Irish confidence herald World Number One side’s 2023 quest

Sexton as usual contributed his enthusiastic best. Withdrawn early due to injury, the maturity of Sexton was equalled by other senior men. Sexton was partnering with Conor Murray for the 67th time at the Test level. Meaning they sit second only to the World Cup-winning duo of George Gregan and Stephen Larkham. Combinations are key to long-term stability, and if both can stay healthy, they should be in Paris come October.

Though it is across the field where Ireland showed their quality. Three tries in the opening spell, only opposed by a single try to France. But it was the second 40 minutes where Ireland denied the resurgent French team, that proved a good measure of how high the confidence of Irish supporters is. And how the squad depth is also displayed in the starting lineup to the bench.

Look at Stuart McCloskey. Retained to start ahead of Bundee Aki, the 30-year-old showed a balanced head, that formed a strong net between himself and Garry Ringrose. Defending sternly, as well as running the ball up, the midfield was less of a collision point than a distribution point. The outside backs on both sides received a high volume of possession. Hugo Keenan especially.

The Dublin native ran for 181 meters. His avoidance of tackles might not be as elusive as others, yet his total of 18 runs showed the strategy to run with it. With an even number of kicks across both teams, it is running where Ireland can hold their heads highest. They did it in July of 2022 [claiming their first away Series win in New Zealand], and they are still doing it against the second-ranked team in World Rugby. Not audacious, a lot more practiced and precise than others.

That is not to say that every factor was perfect. Only claiming 8/11 lineouts is below standard, as well as just 76% tackling success. So the bonus point win was the ultimate reward, with notes on improvements needed ahead of the two key fixtures still to come.

Bonus point win sits Ireland alongside Scotland on the table

Two matches played, and a maximum of 10 points earned is worthy of a pat on the back, even while Scotland can too be more than satisfied with their wins over England and Wales. It is a competition, so comparisons are valid. Two fine outfits that are the measure for the 2023 Six Nations championship.

Each has acquitted themselves well.

Last year’s result went the way of hosts Ireland, 26-5. Yet Scotland has grown a huge amount since then. Their aggressive start last weekend is what should worry Irish fans, as the Scots squashed England’s hopes of a ‘new dawn under Steve Borthwick’ to the surprise of many. An honest account of their intentions, with Gregor Townsend, determined to complete his term as head coach by challenging teams ranked above him.

Undaunted by the likes of New Zealand last November, it appears his squad’s confidence is peaking in the way Ireland has. Northern Hemisphere sides are unafraid to run and to play with the ball, Ireland doing especially well to create a strong lead on two occasions. Points protection adds pressure to the opposition, who deviate from their game plans to chase a win. It didn’t work for Wales, and it didn’t work for France.

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That ability is the difference between the two sides. Ireland has the experience of leading, whereas Scotland has to regain that familiarity. And they need to achieve that, before the crucial Sunday, March 12 test. By then, each side will have met four out of five opposition nations, and it will likely prove the Championship contender showdown – although not confirmed. England is still a threat, only needs a defeat over France to be encouraged to stop Ireland in Round Five.

In this World Cup cycle, some sides are not prepared to exhibit their best; prior to September. France may be in that camp, yet Ireland is not. Andy Farrell has them steaming along well, with leading men like Garry Ringrose, Andrew Porter, and the awesome Caelan Doris. It is their confidence that continues the high-performing Irish teams over the last six seasons.

Something tells observers that after their hopes were dashed in 2019, and in last season’s final Six Nations match, that in 2023 the high confidence means they are continuing to be the leading side in World Rugby. Chased harder now by Scotland, and with England likely to play their part, when they meet Ireland on March 18. A defining fixture, to reveal if Ireland has held their head highest, over the next three rounds of Six Nations rugby.


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