Can Ireland win the Six Nations?

A rugby stadium with rugby posts on a marked green grass pitch at night under illuminated floodlights

The upcoming 2022 edition of the Six Nations marks four long years since Ireland last won the tournament — impressively dispatching of all their opponents to win the lucrative Grand Slam in the process.

The boys in green failed to really hit the ground running last time out, losing to Wales and France in the first two weeks to all but end their Six Nations title hopes, but three successive victories were enough for them to salvage third and regain some confidence.

Still, back-to-back third-place finishes is definitely well below the bar Ireland would have set themselves ahead of those tournaments. However, Andy Farrell’s men have come a long way in the last 12 months and are in fantastic shape and looking very dangerous heading into this year’s renewal — albeit still the third favourites behind France and England in the Six Nations odds.

But, can they prove everybody wrong and lift the Six Nations trophy for a fifth time come March? Read on as we break down some the key factors standing between Ireland and victory!

Farrell’s men are in-form

Ireland are arguably on their best run of form since Farrell took over from Joe Schmidt back in 2019. They looked in fine fettle during the Autumn Internationals late last year, thrashing Japan (60-5) and Argentina (53-7) either side of a huge 29-20 win over New Zealand — which was just their third win over the All Blacks in their history! They are carrying serious momentum into the Six Nations, and with fans back in the Aviva Stadium in Dublin for the home fixtures against Wales, Scotland and Italy, they should win all three of those games with ease.

It is not just in the green shirt of Ireland that the players have been enjoying their rugby though. Leinster, Ulster and Munster have all looked great in the Heineken Cup, with the latter two unbeaten thus far in their four respective pool games, and Farrell will be hoping that his men can carry that form with them into the Six Nations.

A fit squad

The injury issues of Wales and England, who will be without their captain Owen Farrell for the entire tournament, are well documented. They are the kind of unwanted problems that Ireland’s Farrell is not having to deal with ahead of the Six Nations. At the time of writing, Ulster’s Iain Henderson is Ireland’s only doubt ahead of their opener with Wales on Saturday and with the defending champions’ injury list as long as your arm, the hosts are expected to wipe the floor with Wayne Pivac’s side — what better way to start? Farrell will be hoping he comes out of games unscathed though!

Difficult away games

Scotland, Wales and Italy especially, are games that Ireland would fancy their chances to win whether home or away. England and France, on the other hand, are a different story. The trips to Twickenham and the Stade de France are where the Six Nations will be won or lost for Farrell’s side. Ireland haven’t won a game in London since their Grand Slam triumph in 2018, losing three times at Twickenham since then, including a heavy 57-15 defeat in a 2019 World Cup warm-up. They did beat an out-of-sorts England 32-19 last year as Eddie Jones’ men finished second last, so that could give them the confidence despite a hostile environment.

For a while, France were no issue for Ireland in the Six Nations, with the boys in green winning five of their six meetings in the competition between 2014 and 2018. But Fabien Galthié has transformed Les Bleus in the last couple of years and Ireland have came unstuck against the French in the last two renewals of the tournament — losing 35-27 in Saint Denis in 2020 before being narrowly beaten 15-13 in Dublin last year. This round two game will be crucial for both sides in the hunt for glory, and Ireland can go on to win the whole thing if they can get the better of France.