The Irish didn’t necessarily need an extra reason to celebrate this St. Patrick’s Day weekend. But their national rugby team gave them one anyways on Saturday, March 18. At the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, the Irish national team topped off a dream tournament by dominating England (29-16) to win the Six Nations. Thanks to an immaculate record, the Irish have even added a Grand Slam title to the trophy for the fourth time in their history, after 1948, 2009 and 2018.
Perched at the very top of the world rankings for the last several months, Ireland looked like the better team going into the Six Nations. But they still had to win against the other favorites, France (32-19), and resist Scotland (22-7) while dealing with a cascade of injuries that sent both of their hookers to the infirmary. “They could have panicked when they saw the game scenario and the twists of fate, but it was never the case,” said former French international third row Imanol Harinordoquy (82 caps). “The Irish give off the impression that nothing can happen to them.”
No one can match Ireland, and you only have to look at their latest results to see that. On Saturday, Andy Farrell’s men won a 10th consecutive match. “The Irish are as well organized and strong in conquest as ever. But they have also greatly improved technically and offensively,” said Harinordoquy.
To progress in this way, the Irish team has bet almost all its chips on the province of Leinster. Against England, 12 of the 15 starters played for the province with four European titles. According to the former French fly-half Lionel Beauxis (24 caps), they’re a great asset: “In difficult moments, they have the advantage because the players know each other so well. And their offensive schemes are so well executed that they are almost impossible to counter.” Jonathan Sexton, who has been at the helm for more than a decade, is still the undisputed starter despite being 37 years old and having suffered from injuries throughout his career.
A France-Ireland clash at the World Cup?
Superstar, captain, opener, scorer, leader… There are not enough words to describe the former Racing 92 player, who is a member of the Leinster pack. He is the team’s main strength “because of the incredible commitment he puts into each match,” said Beauxis, but also perhaps its potential weakness, according to Harinordoquy. “He sets the pace for his team, but we realize that the general level declines when he is not on the field. We see it at Les Bleus with Antoine Dupont, it’s not always good to be too dependent on one player.”
Before retiring, Sexton has set himself one last goal: the 2023 World Cup in France (September 8 to October 28). He will lead an Irish team that will have nowhere to hide after its Grand Slam, and will be the main obstacle for Les Bleus in their quest for a home win. The two teams may not have to wait too long to face each other, as their paths could cross as early as the quarterfinals.
If such a confrontation were to take place at this stage of the competition – or later – there is no doubt that all the players would have the February match in mind, which ended with an Irish victory and generalized exhaustion. As a sign of how tough the match was, even the indefatigable Dupont finished the match depleted, and couldn’t find the strength to answer journalists’ questions after the match.
Center Gaël Fickou replaced him at short notice, and with the World Cup match in mind. “We have to learn from this and come back. We will meet them again sooner or later,” he said, echoing Irish coach Andy Farrell. “France is a world-class team. I’m sure there will be many more battles.”
Overcoming the curse of the quarterfinals
In the meantime, the stars of the Irish national team will be put in the best conditions to arrive in shape for the World Cup. Most of the team’s key players have federal contracts and are playing almost exclusively in European Cup matches and Ireland’s international games. Sexton has only played five games for his club so far this season, while third row Josh Van der Flier – voted the world’s best player in 2022 – has only played 10 games for Leinster. It’s a safe bet that their numbers won’t go up much between now and September whereas Les Bleus’ are likely to explode.
THE WORLD IN FRENCH
Every morning, a selection of articles from The World In French straight to your inbox
“Despite everything, I really think that France remains the favorite of this World Cup,” said Beauxis. “Les Bleus will play in front of their home crowd, and even if the Irish continue to be rested, all the national teams will make similar preparations when the league seasons end. They won’t have the usual advantage of freshness.”
We are interested in your experience using the site.
But the Irish are full of confidence as the World Cup approaches, and they will need a lot of it to overcome a sort of curse: in nine editions, the Irish national team has reached the quarterfinals seven times but has never managed to reach the semifinals .
“I could see them finally making it through this season,” said Harinordoquy, “but the Irish have a poor record against Les Bleus at the World Cup, so if we have to play them…” The former Biarritz player knows a thing or two about this, having scored a try during the French team’s big win over Ireland in 2003 (43-21). For that quarter final played on Australian soil, the French team was captained by Fabien Galthié. some ideas.