The Six Nations certainly didn’t get off to the start that Ireland would have been hoping for on Sunday afternoon, as they were narrowly beaten by Wales in the standout game from the opening weekend of action.
The Irish certainly could have taken pride from the defeat, as they performed admirably considering that they were playing with 14-men for the most part.
While France showcased their quality in a big victory over Italy, and the Scotland and England game was full of drama, it was the Ireland vs Wales fixture that saw two sides at the top of their game playing out an enthralling game.
In truth, neither side really deserved to lose the game, but so is the case with elite sport, there always needs to be a loser, and on Sunday, it was Ireland. But, do the Irish still have a chance to recover from the defeat to regain the Six Nations title?
More Than Enough Positives
Of course, Ireland will not be able to win a first Grand Slam title since 2018, but there were enough positives to take in the defeat to highlight that they are still genuine contenders.
If anything, there were more positives to take from Ireland’s defeat than there were from England’s, which would be potentially more worrying for the reigning champions and the state that they find themselves in.
England were massively underwhelming in defeat to Scotland, while Ireland showed grit and fight despite going down. There was a team display by the Irish, which cannot be said of the English.
You only needed to see the fight that Ireland showed for nearly 70 minutes against Wales playing with 14 men to see that the Irish are still very much in the race for the Six Nations this year.
Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray were outstanding in the defeat, as they made up for the dismissal of Peter O’Mahony, who was ejected from the game after a clumsy tackle on Wales’ Tomas Francis.
The fact that the Irish didn’t fall apart against Wales shows that they are an elite team and can overcome challenges that many would have faltered under. Indeed, Ireland were close to snatching the win in the final stages, but Andy Farrell wouldn’t have been overly critical on his side’s performance in the changing rooms after the defeat.
Huge Games Coming Up
It goes without saying that defeat on the opening weekend typically means that any side looking to win the Six Nations will need to go on and win all four remaining games.
That will certainly be the task ahead for the Irish, and they will not come much bigger than the challenge ahead of them on Valentines Day.
The Irish must get a first win in the tournament this year on Sunday against the French to ensure that they have a chance ahead of the final three rounds of games.
Defeat against the French would effectively mean that their title challenge is more unlikely than an NBA player getting a quadruple-double and entering TwinSpires restricted list.
Follow up games against Italy and Scotland will also be hugely important. Ireland must win by a big margin against Italy, before travelling to Murrayfield on the penultimate weekend, which could arrive with Scotland still in with a chance of completing a Grand Slam.
If Ireland wins all three games between now and the final weekend, then there could be a massive game on the 20th March at the Aviva Stadium, as England are the visitors.
Either way, it is set up to be a pulsating month or so of Six Nations action but write Ireland off at your peril.