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Peter Stringer: Ireland in a great place and will only get stronger

19 Mar | BY Peter Stringer | MIN READ TIME |
Peter Stringer: Ireland in a great place and will only get stronger
Peter Stringer Betway column

The Betway ambassador reviews an incredibly competitive Six Nations, and reveals who he thinks should succeed Peter O'Mahony if he decides to step aside.

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The 2024 Six Nations was a great spectacle which, in terms of trying to grow the sport, will do the game of rugby a lot of good.

It’s so important to have a competitive Six Nations every single year – the fact it’s so difficult to win is what makes it the best competition in the world. We thought at the start that it would be a two-horse race but, behind Ireland, there were only four points separating second and fifth in the table.

Ireland are in a very good place

Without a shadow of a doubt, Ireland would have taken back-to-back championships – albeit without a second consecutive Grand Slam – before the tournament began. The fact they did so without playing particularly well in some of their games just shows what a good place Irish rugby is currently in.

There’s a real continuity in the team no matter who plays. Johnny Sexton was Andy Farrell’s coach on the field – he was the eyes and the voice that controlled everything – but Jack Crowley has really stepped up to the plate in that key position. There had a few injuries, which is always disruptive, but Calvin Nash, Robbie Henshaw and Ciaran Frawley just slotted in when required.

They’re so well-drilled, with a real focus and cohesion that means teams have got to be at their very best for 80 minutes to beat them. That’s a very difficult place to get to, and I can only see it growing from here.

England now one of their biggest challengers

The game against England at Twickenham – which, for me, was the best game of the tournament – was a prime example. England played at an incredibly high intensity for 80 minutes, and Ireland could still have nicked it. It was a disappointing result, but it’s a mark of where Ireland have got to.

England were relentless for the whole game. They dominated those tackles more often than not, and the knock-on effect at the breakdown just stopped Ireland from playing. What is normally two-second ruck ball become four-second ruck ball, meaning receivers had to stall their runs and couldn’t come onto the ball at pace.

I thought England were incredible in the last two games and, for me, Ben Earl was the standout player in the tournament. They look like they’re really building something under Steve Borthwick and I see them being Ireland’s biggest competitor in the next couple of years with some of the uncertainty around France and their coaching staff.

Italy can maintain this momentum

Italy were the surprise factor and really made the tournament. Normally you see them fade after 50-60 minutes and capitulate but they are building a real strength in depth now with guys coming off the bench and making a huge impact.

There was no fluke about their two wins and, had that kick against France gone over, they’d have been right up there in the table. Their Under-20s have gone well in recent times and I can’t see why they can’t keep on progressing.

As for Wales, I don’t see this wooden spoon as a blip and feel it could be another two or three seasons before they turn things around. The state of the club scene in Wales has been a shambles for the last 10 years or so, but they’ve always been able to rely on big players at international level.

They’ve lost all that experience now, with George North the latest to bow out, so it’s going to take a lot of rebuilding from the grassroots up in order to develop a new identity.

It could have been a different story for Scotland had that TMO decision gone their way against France, but they’re still struggling for that consistency of performance. Lapses in concentration and discipline really let them down. Teams like Ireland are so ruthless, you can’t afford to allow them to get into your 22 and get points on the board.

Dorris the obvious successor to O’Mahony

As Peter O’Mahony said in his press conference after the Scotland match, if that was his last game then it’s not a bad one to go out on.

You hear what other guys say about him and he’s held in such high regard. He’s not just a talker, he’ll back it up on the field, and Ireland would certainly miss him as a leader and a player. What he’s done for the country has been phenomenal.

From what I hear, Caelan Dorris is probably the next guy in line for that role. He’s a guy who is guaranteed his place if he keeps playing the way he is, either in the No.6 or No.8 jersey depending on what they do with the back row.

There’s so much that goes into captaincy – the day-to-day running of the team, integration with the coaches, setting a good example on the field and, ultimately, having the respect of your peers – but he’s emerged as a real leader and standout player and looks to be the natural progression.

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Peter Stringer

Peter Stringer

Irish rugby legend who played in two World Cups and made 98 appearances for his country in a decorated international career.

Peter Stringer

Peter Stringer

Irish rugby legend who played in two World Cups and made 98 appearances for his country in a decorated international career.