Do Ireland need to end their reliance on ageing players?

Do Ireland need to end their reliance on ageing players? Andy Farrell guided Ireland to their second third-place finish on the bounce in the Six Nations Championship, although his side […]

Do Ireland need to end their reliance on ageing players?

Andy Farrell guided Ireland to their second third-place finish on the bounce in the Six Nations Championship, although his side was off the pace in the bid to compete for the crown. Only two years ago, the Shamrocks were the best side in the world entering the 2019 World Cup. It would have been fitting for Joe Schmidt to sign off his successful six-year tenure with the Webb Ellis cup in hand. However, it ended in a familiar quarter-final defeat for the third tournament in a row.

Farrell was left with the task of a rebuild, but his changes have not been wholesale, keeping faith with veteran players. The cream of Ireland’s crop was selected into the Lions squad for their tour of South Africa, featuring eight players that starred in the Six Nations. Warren Gatland’s side is backed in the 2021 Lions Tour odds at 4/5 to emerge victorious against the Springboks, but there will not be an overly Irish influence over proceedings.
The majority of Irish players selected for the squad are in a battle for a starting spot, which reflects the strength of the Ireland squad at the moment. In the Six Nations, Farrell’s men played extremely well against England to sign off the competition on a high note, while there were also victories over Italy and Scotland, although the latter was a tense affair. However, looking forward to the 2023 World Cup, the Shamrocks are not laying down the groundwork to compete for the crown.
In the Six Nations, there was an overreliance on Johnny Sexton. He was brilliant in victories over England and Scotland, but at the age of 35, Ireland cannot afford to be dependent on the form of the fly-half. Sexton is approaching the end of his career and has been plagued by injury issues over the last few years.

It’s the same story for Conor Murray, who recently reclaimed his spot in the squad after being riddled with complications from a nasty neck injury in 2018. Farrell went with the hot hand at the position and Murray performed well enough to earn a place in the Lions’ squad. Murray is now 32 and is highly unlikely to improve in form. Jamison Gibson-Park is in line behind Murray, but he will be 31 by the time the next World Cup comes around. Ireland will want to see more from Caolin Blade and Craig Casey, who will have the opportunity to showcase their potential.

Elsewhere, there is hope in up-and-coming sportsmen such as Jordan Larmour, Jacob Stockdale, and Hugo Keenan. The trio should be approaching their respective primes by 2023 and have already showcased top-end ability. However, that needs to spread to the playmaking positions to ensure that Ireland is competitive in the next World Cup and beyond.