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Here’s Why Ireland Can Bounce Back and Win the 2020 Six Nations

| December 24, 2019 1:30 am PDT
Here's Why Ireland Can Bounce Back and Win the Six Nations

Ireland will enter the 2020 Six Nations championship with a fresh perspective under the guidance of Andy Farrell. It is, for want of a better term, a new regime for the Irishmen.

There’s a lot to be said for a new regime. Especially if the preceding one had grown stale, rigid, and devoid of ideas. It would be unfair to describe the entirety of Joe Schmidt’s tenure as Ireland’s boss as a complete disaster, but the end came at the right time. 

Schmidt is one of the finest coaches in the game and will be remembered with fondness with Irish fans. Three Six Nations crowns, including a Grand Slam in 2018, will do that. Especially since Ireland’s total haul in this tournament — including its antecedents of the Five Nations and Home Nations Championship — totaled a measly 14. 

In six years as Ireland boss, Schmidt’s Ireland beat the All Blacks twice — once in Chicago and another time in Dublin. The Irish had never beaten New Zealand before Schmidt. 

Despite his achievements with the Men in Green, Schmidt fell flat on his face in two attempts to break Ireland’s hoodoo of never winning a knockout game in the Rugby World Cup. 

In Japan 2019, Ireland fans began to turn on Schmidt, a man that had revolutionized how the country was perceived in world rugby. Despite heading to the tournament as the number 1 ranked team on the planet — with the incumbent World Rugby Coach and Player of the Year in Schmidt and Jonny Sexton — they left with their tail between their legs. 

Now that Schmidt is gone, Farrell’s job is to step up and reinvent a team that, at one point, had looked capable of winning the World Cup. 

His first test will be orchestrating a successful campaign at the 2020 Six Nations.

Andy Farrell — An Unknown Enemy?

As tactically astute as Joe Schmidt was for Ireland, I think it is safe to say that his ideas were figured out. By the time 2019 had come around, the tactics and gameplays that had brought Ireland so much success just one year prior were used against them. 

But when we think of the team to win the 2020 Six Nations, will such predictable tactics work against them?

This should not be an issue for this Irish team by the time Ireland faces Scotland in their opening game of the tournament on February 1. 

If anything, Scotland’s Gregor Townsend — the only manager apart from Eddie Jones to not be debuting as a head coach in the championship — will have very little to work with ahead of that game. 

While Farrell is not expected to make a complete departure from Ireland’s style under Schmidt, he will certainly have his own ideas for progressing their style of play.

In fact, he will be actively encouraged by the IRFU to create a new culture and environment, within reason, in the wake of Ireland’s disastrous World Cup campaign.

Where does that start? You guessed it — with a new tactical approach. 

Once again, Ireland fans shouldn’t expect the style of play to transform overnight.

Farrell was Ireland’s defensive coach for four years, for what it is worth. But with the addition of former Italy and England coach Mike Catt overlooking attack and Leinster’s John Fogarty as scrum coach into a team already containing Simon Easterby and Richie Murphy, you can expect a new approach.

If Farrell can get Ireland off to a great start against Scotland at the Aviva Stadium, a showdown with Wayne Pivac’s Wales will be a true test of how the new boss’s ideas translate into the live game environment.

A New Lease on Life for Ireland?

It’s no big secret that Joe Schmidt loved structure. 

A meticulous planner with an obsessive fascination with detail, the Kiwi boss wanted his team to work like components in a machine. Anyone unwilling to perform according to his demands would be shown the door and advised not to let it hit them on the way out.

The almost mechanical tactics that served Ireland so well under the former Ireland boss also stifled creativity. Offloads were almost a sin in Schmidt’s world, and players were not given much room for improvisation. 

Things will, presumably, be a lot different under Farrell and his coaching staff. Thus, Ireland’s players — especially the more creative talents in green jerseys — might feel as though they have a new lease on life. 

Irish fans have had to endure some painfully boring rugby under Schmidt at times. But when you are winning on the regular, it is a lot easier to deal with. When you are getting thumped by the likes of New Zealand, England, and Wales, it can feel as though you are having teeth pulled without anesthetic.

Well, maybe the drowsy effect of the anesthetic is evident, but it is painful, nonetheless. 

Farrell’s appointment might not be popular in all four quarters of the Irish support, but there is hope that the team might start playing some attractive rugby.

Rather than the bish bash bosh and incendiary box kicks that ultimately go nowhere, the use of offloads and width would be a sight to behold. Unleashing the creativity of players like Garry Ringrose, Jordan Larmour, and Jacob Stockdale would make for undoubted entertainment.

Of course, entertaining the crowds and winning games are not synonymous. But a little magic and trust in the abilities of the players could be just what the doctor ordered.  

The Best of Ireland’s Players

At the end of 2018, Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray were the best halfback combination in world rugby.

Things look very different now, with Sexton’s age beginning to show and Murray’s form stuck to the side of a milk carton. If Ireland is to begin planning for the 2023 World Cup, Farrell must start by picking young players, preferably, but those who are on form, definitely. 

Sexton is still world-class, but his time is coming to an end. Joey Carberry was touted as his successor, but the Munster man has some work to do before he can be trusted to have a big effect on big matches.

Behind Carberry, Ireland has Jack Carty and Ross Byrne, to name but two. Sure, fly-half is hardly a position stacked with options, but at least two of these three guys can come good if given the opportunity.

Scrumhalf is another position that looks wobbly because Schmidt chose to stick with Murray’s poor form in favor of experimenting.

You have Ulster’s John Cooney playing some excellent rugby, Connacht’s Kieran Marmion — who should have arguably started the big games in the Japan, but instead was left at home — and Leinster’s Luke McGrath all capable of delivering.

And that’s just the two high-profile “problem positions.”

In reality, Ireland is blessed with the greatest degree of talent that the country has ever seen. Forwards like Taidgh Furlong, James Ryan, Tadgh Beirne, Dan Leavy, Cian Healey, Iain Henderson, Peter O’Mahony, Josh van der Flier, and Jack Conan, to name a few.

Of course, the emerging forwards like Ronan Kelleher, Rhys Marshall, Scott Penny, and Max Deegan might be considered.

In the backs, there is huge talent coming through the Irish system. Hugo Keenan and Michael Lowry are two big names that stand out. These guys can join the likes of Ringrose, Stockdale, Carberry, Larmour, Aki, Henshaw, Farrell, and, eventually, the ultra-impressive James Lowe. 

But, Lowe excluded for now, how many young guns will we see in the 2020 Six Nations for Ireland? Could youth hold the key for forgetting what was a year of misery for the Irish?

2020: The End of Ireland’s Annus Mirabilis?

And let’s face it. 2019 was not a good year to be an Ireland fan.

Record losses and thumpings at the hands of the Welsh, English, and Kiwis turned what we were told was going to be the best year Ireland would ever have into a nightmare scenario.

Almost everything that could have gone wrong in the big games went wrong. Prior to the World Cup, fans had hoped that Schmidt was holding his cards to his chest and sacrificing the Six Nations and any semblance of entertainment in order to befuddle the big boys when it came to the crunch.

Instead, Ireland lost to Japan, played like sluggish amateurs against Russia, and completely capitulated against the All Blacks. 

That was 2019 for Irish rugby. It was the promise of a Michelin star meal only to receive a half-eaten sandwich with suspicious-looking brown fingerprints all over it. 

The good news is that 2019 is over for Irish fans. It’s a new dawn, a new day, and a new regime that brings with it an opportunity to write the wrongs of that year. 

In 2018, England Rugby had its worst year for some time. Especially in the Six Nations, where they finished 5th.

Some were calling for Eddie Jones’ head after the tournament, but later that year, they almost beat the All Blacks and, less than 12 months after that, reached the final of the World Cup, knocking the All Blacks out in the process.

That kind of rock-bottom scenario can be just what a team needs to get back to their feet and start winning again. I mean, you don’t have a year like Ireland did in 2018 and just suddenly become a bad team, do you?

The 2020 Six Nations is a chance to start over with a new coach and a clean slate. The only way to get rid of the stale stench of 2019 is to open the windows up and start spraying the air freshener around the old place.

First Time Lucky?

This is hardly a statistic that will have you spitting your coffee all over the screen, but it is interesting all the same.

If Farrell wins the Six Nations with Ireland, he will follow the last two Ireland coaches in winning the championship in his first campaign as head coach. Declan Kidney led Ireland to a historic Grand Slam in 2009, while Joe Schmidt won the title in 2014.

Interestingly enough, England’s Eddie Jones also won a Grand Slam with England in his first Six Nations, in 2016. That was eight years after Warren Gatland won a Grand Slam in his first campaign.

Despite Wales winning the Grand Slam in 2019, they are third favorites to lift the title. Like Ireland, Wales will enter the competition with a new coach at the helm in Wayne Pivac. But given that the Welsh made the World Cup semi-final in Japan, you might expect them to be just behind England in the eyes of the bookies.

Evidently not. Is this a reflection on Farrell, or just the oddsmakers considering this interesting stat? I believe it is a little bit of both, with the bookies also expecting a major backlash from the Irish in 2020.

In many ways, I think the bookies are right to consider Ireland as worthy contenders for this year’s crown. With the quality of their players and coaching staff, write them off at your peril.

As pointed out above, new coaches can often go on to have a great effect on teams in this competition. As we have seen with the likes of Gatland, Kidney, Schmidt, and Jones, this can even lead to championship glory.

Of course, there will be four new coaches debuting in the 2020 Six Nations Championship. Alongside Ireland, France, Italy, and Wales will be led to battle by a new man in the hot seat.

That said, Farrell won’t be basing his entire approach to his new job on statistics or trends.

Final Words

Ireland might be down, but they are certainly not out.

A new era brings with it the chance to write the wrongs of 2019. It can be the start of something new for this era of players and an opportunity for a few youngsters to inject some vitality into the ranks.

Do you think Ireland can win the Six Nations in 2020? If so, why don’t you head over to one of the top rugby betting sites and see what you can get if you are right?

Adam Haynes
Adam Haynes

Adam is a sports writer and tipster with a strong background in MMA, boxing, and combat sports.

When Adam isn't writing about those, as well as politics, rugby, and Gaelic Games, he can be found working on methods and strategies to beat the bookies.

For his troubles, Adam is a fan of Leinster Rugby, Glasgow Celtic, and trusting the process.

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