Analysis: 2022 Ireland Rugby 6 Nations campaign still on task

After a single loss, the 2022 Ireland Rugby 6 Nations campaign is still on task. In fact, all the pressure is now squarely on Les Bleus.

That’s how any team leading the Guinness Six Nations Championship has others chasing it. France are at the top of the table, although the space down to England and Ireland is a shallow three competition points. The bonus was denied in this weekend’s 30-24 win over Ireland. So head coach Andy Farrell should not have been so negative in his match appraisals.

Quoted by The Guardian† “History shows that you’ve got to be ready to take your chance in the Six Nations, you’ve got to make sure that your own house is in order in regards to your next game,” Farrell said. “Yes, France are in pole position, they’ve had two home games, but I’m sure that if we continue to show the fight and character that we have here, in what was an unbelievable Test match, I’m certain we ‘ll be in the mix towards the end of it.”

2022 Ireland Rugby 6 Nations campaign still on task; pressure on Les Bleus

Using the term pressure involves both external, and internal. It can only be assumed that Les Bleus will have been planning for this after last year’s final loss to Wales saw France’s grip on a GrandSlam removed. That motivation will only assist them in this stage of the cycle – looking to peak early and sustain a winning momentum.

Externally, they not only have four sides squarely opposed to them, but the mix of expectation and doubters will also find out how well any said pressure is handled. From the inside, that will be similar for France and the 2022 Ireland Rugby 6 Nations group. From the management’s perspective, a loss would have had to have been planned for, and the Irish must look ahead to Round Three up against Italy.

A ‘shoe in’ for success (as most people will predict) against the Azzuri, it will be the final two rounds that Irish eyes will be focusing on. After the break, they play England at Twickenham before the final round against Scotland. So being able to rebound by March 13 away, and the week later at home. A set goal, and competition against the second-placed and fourth-placed sides. A good test.

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Mind you, France too will suffer their own ‘major test’ attempting to hold up the Six Nations trophy themselves. They visit Scotland next and travel to Wales in round four. And the final is France v England. [Ta dah]† So no easy path either.

Why should Irish fans be so optimistic?

Not every question can be answered after Saturday’s game. Why did they perform so poorly in the opening 40 minutes? All valid points that do not appear to embolden support for an Ireland Rugby 6Nations triumph in 2022. But looks can be deceiving.

What is obvious is that several leading men had an absence of varying degrees. The fact their replacements will not be thrown immediately into the wolves is a miraculous coincidence. How many times in a test match series, a week one/two injury causes the second fixture (or third in this case) to be significant. Against Italy, they can afford [a little] experimentation. To bring in five or six players from outside the match team. Farrell and his assistant coach Paul O’Connell might give squad-rotation a trial when they announce the run-on side against Italy, though not an intended way to overlook any of their deficiencies.

Behind 22-7, and lagging badly from some self-inflicted mistakes, the game only came back in the direction of the visitors after 35 minutes. Do that against Italy in a fortnight, you will likely escape. Having done it against France, it was irretrievable – not for the might of trying. Crossing the line more than the victors themselves; for Ireland, it was a bonus. Not only did they reduce the table-topping French teams’ haul, as described by Farrell, a good conclusion.

“I was unbelievably pleased with the character and the fight from the players in that second half,” Farrell said. “They’re such a courageous side. I’ve seen many a team come here to Paris and fall over completely, especially with a scoreline of 22-7, that was never going to be the case with this lot. They backed themselves to get back into the game, and it says a lot that we were in with a chance of winning it at the end.”

Optimistic yes, though, not ignoring the issues seen in Paris. Yes, it might be their third consecutive loss to France, yet Ireland should not panic. They scored more tries than their hosts. There is only a 16 point difference to leaders France, and with a good draw ahead to make the most of the chances left ahead of them.

Next time that the ‘heat is on’ Ireland should respond strongly

Completing their third-round task at home against Italy on February 27 will lead to a semblance of respite. Aiming toward the same team goal, the most critical thing is to ‘work on the positives’ and promote a positive team culture.

There were injuries that hindered last weekend’s match strategy. Losing Ronan Kelleher, and then replacement flanker Peter O’Mahony lasted mere minutes, before being taken from the field. So the rest that men like Johnny Sexton can have before the critical England match is upon the team. That will be a game that is the ‘make or break’.

The ex-England assistant coach, Andy Farrell might not know the planning and strategies that Eddie Jones will present the Irish with but, he can tell his players about their opposition. That IP is something International coaches value highly. And in the same way that player awareness is research and data that is fed to the playing group, having self-belief is a key ingredient though. This Ireland Rugby 6 Nations campaign must reflect on the learnings, on what they can use to their advantage.

Halfback Jamison Gibson-Park appears to be entering a golden phase of his career. The security of having Connor Murray as a teammate has provided the on-the-ground experience that the ex-pat Kiwi is now benefitting from. In his fifth Six Nations start, the combination with Joey Carberry is one that looks bright on the Irish side’s horizon.

“It’s without a doubt the biggest game of my life and there will be a lot of lessons to take from it,” reflected Gibson-Park, who has scored two tries in his last four Tests. “They’re a serious team and they’ve outdone us today, but I think there’s still hope in the competition. We’ll recover well for Italy (on February 27) and all we can do is try to win the rest of our games and see how the competition plays out, but we’re still hopeful.

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“We gave France entry into the game as well as a few mistakes. We just have to try and stay disciplined because they are a big physical team with a strong set-piece. I suppose trying to limit their opportunities was key but throughout periods of the game, we gave them too much access into our half.”

Only one individual of many to speak highly of, and as a collective, the Irish must concentrate on rebounding from this one loss. A quality International side has to have the ability to accept their deficiencies. Face them, deal with the facts, and then move on. To stay on task from the coaching staff, through to the reserves. As a unit, they can still chase the title. All is not lost for Ireland Rugby 6 Nations hopes – provided they do the basics, look to the positives, and play the team in front of them.

6 Nations Round Three: February 26/27 – Scotland v France | England v Wales | Ireland v Italy

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