Andy Farrell feels a “top drawer” defence is fuelling Ireland’s pursuit of successive Grand Slam titles as he turns his attention to nullifying England’s new blitz approach.

The reigning Guinness Six Nations champions limited Wales to a penalty try during Saturday’s 31-7 success in Dublin after nilling Italy 36-0 in round two on the back of beating France 38-17.

Ireland, who have scored 15 tries across the three bonus-points wins, travel to Twickenham on March 9 seeking to keep their championship clean sweep quest on track before hosting Scotland on the final weekend.

Head coach Farrell expects England to “go harder” as they get to grips with adopting an aggressive defensive strategy orchestrated by coach Felix Jones, who joined Steve Borthwick’s staff after helping South Africa retain the Rugby World Cup in the autumn.

“It’s the South African defence and I know that Felix will constantly try and put his stamp on implementing that,” said Farrell.

“There’s always going to be teething problems at the start but they’ll go harder because that’s their philosophy.

“Our defence is top drawer, there’s no doubt about that.

“It has been for quite some time now.

“It was unbelievably fitting that we kept them (Wales) out because of the fight and want to be able to do that.

“I thought our defensive shape wasn’t very nice at times but our intent certainly on the line said a lot about how much they love defending for one another.”

Following two Twickenham defeats in the first year of the Farrell era, Ireland have beaten England four times in a row.

Borthwick’s men were minutes away from reaching the World Cup final in October but have made an unconvincing start to the championship with narrow wins over Italy and Wales followed by Saturday’s 30-21 Calcutta Cup loss in Scotland.

While Ireland will be favourites in south-west London, Farrell is aware matches can quickly change course after seeing Wales briefly gain the upper hand at the Aviva Stadium having trailed 17-0 at the break.

“Going to Twickenham, everyone knows how difficult a task that is,” he said.

“It’s not just as simple as saying we need to be better to win.

“Of course we always want to play better but the game is what it is, from minute one.

“For example, we’re winning the penalty count hands down at half-time (against Wales) and then all of a sudden within minutes of the second half, it has evened up.

“That could happen in two weeks’ time, role reversal. The game takes its own shape but there’s parts of our game we obviously need to improve.”

Ireland kept their quest for successive Guinness Six Nations Grand Slam titles on track by brushing aside spirited Wales with a dominant 31-7 victory in Dublin.

Andy Farrell’s men backed up crushing wins over France and Italy with a third consecutive bonus-point triumph to keep themselves in pole position for further championship glory.

First-half tries from Dan Sheehan and James Lowe paved the way for the reigning champions to equal England’s tournament record of 11 wins in a row.

Wales avoided embarrassment at the Aviva Stadium and briefly threatened an improbable fightback thanks to a second-half spell which brought a penalty try and a yellow card for Tadhg Beirne.

But a first Test try for stand-in Ireland full-back Ciaran Frawley broke their resolve before Beirne atoned for his earlier error by securing the bonus point at the death on an afternoon when flawless fly-half Jack Crowley kicked 11 points.

Ireland’s ominous march towards another clean sweep continues next month against England and Scotland, while winless Wales host France in round four ahead of a possible wooden spoon shoot-out with Italy.

A largely inexperienced Wales team crossed the Irish Sea as overwhelming underdogs on the back of narrow defeats to the Scots and Steve Borthwick’s side.

Visiting head coach Warren Gatland insisted he travelled with belief rather than hope and urged his players to make “everything uncomfortable” for the fancied hosts.

Wales’ bid to disrupt began with some colossal defending as the home team’s early dominance was initially rewarded only by a long-range Crowley penalty.

Yet Ireland’s well-oiled machine persisted with wave after wave of attack to break down the staunch resistance and take control of the scoreboard.

Hooker Sheehan powered over at the end of a line-out maul in the 21st minute to claim his fourth try of the tournament before Calvin Nash later teed up Lowe to touch down in the left corner.

Wales finally enjoyed some forays into Ireland’s 22 just before the break.

But Sam Costelow’s decision to kick a penalty to the corner failed to pay off, while a couple of costly fumbles ensured they went into half-time scoreless for a third match on the bounce, at 17-0 down.

Any potential fears Wales had of joining Italy in being nilled in Dublin were extinguished within three minutes of the restart as Tomos Williams’ quick tap penalty led to a momentum shift.

Italian referee Andrea Piardi awarded a penalty try at the end of a lengthy review of a collapsed maul on Ireland’s line, with Beirne sent to the sin bin for illegally changing his bind.

Fired-up Wales were well and truly in the ascendancy at that stage but failed to make further inroads on the scoreboard in Beirne’s absence before Ireland restored order.

After the bulldozing Bundee Aki was denied a try on review for Robbie Henshaw’s knock on, Frawley, deputising for the injured Hugo Keenan, gleefully dived under the posts to celebrate his first Test start in style.

Wales came close to a consolation score in the closing minutes, during which Ireland replacement James Ryan was sent to the sin bin.

Yet, with Beirne’s late finish compounding their misery, they ultimately slipped to a 10th defeat from their last 11 Six Nations fixtures as their wait for a first championship win in Dublin since 2012 goes on.

Andy Farrell is braced for a “war of attrition” against winless Wales and knows any hint of complacency could wreck Ireland’s pursuit of successive Grand Slam titles.

The reigning Guinness Six Nations champions are overwhelming favourites to back up dominant bonus-point wins over France and Italy with another victory on Saturday afternoon in Dublin.

Warren Gatland’s side arrive at a sold-out Aviva Stadium seeking to stave off the threat of the wooden spoon following narrow losses to Scotland and England.

Ireland head coach Farrell acknowledges Wales could very easily have been in contention for a championship clean sweep of their own at this stage and is taking nothing for granted.

“It’s certainly not how we view it,” he replied when asked about the visitors being written off. “We view them in the highest regard.

“It’s a Test match. It’s a war of attrition and they’re going to give it absolutely everything they’ve got.

“We’ve got to manage ourselves from the start of the game to the end in the best way possible because if we don’t we’ll come unstuck, there’s no doubt about that.”

Wales have not won a Six Nations match in Dublin since 2012.

Members of Gatland’s squad have spoken about a fast start being crucial to their chances of pulling off a shock success to snap that statistic.

“We obviously know what they’ve been talking about, coming out of the blocks and causing chaos and we know it’s going to be a fight, we know they’re going to make it as tough as possible for us,” said Farrell.

“But what we always concentrate on is ourselves and making sure that we put our game to the match, whoever it is that we’re playing.

“We have full respect in regard to what Wales are going to bring because they’re always unbelievably hard to beat and we expect them to be chomping at the bit.

“The two performances that they had (against Scotland and England), they could be coming here with two wins and no losses so we know exactly what we’re up against.”

Ireland are bidding to extend their three-year winning run at home to 18 Tests and equal England’s record of 11 successive Six Nations victories.

Farrell has triumphed in 23 of 24 matches on Irish soil during his reign, with a 15-13 loss to France in 2021 the only blemish.

Speaking of the record, the Englishman said: “It’s amazing, isn’t it? It’s not something that I keep track of, all these bits.

“’Breener’ (Peter Breen, IRFU communications manager) tells me them every week but they just roll over my head because it’s always just about the performance and getting the best out of ourselves and trying to be better the whole time.

“That’s what drives us more than anything.

“I suppose if you have that type of mentality hopefully things will chug along in the right direction but it’s nice to be told these things on the periphery, so that you’re aware of the progress that you’re making.”

Ciaran Frawley will make his first Test start in Ireland’s Guinness Six Nations clash with Wales after being selected in place of injured full-back Hugo Keenan.

The versatile 26-year-old won his two previous caps as a replacement, including playing the final four minutes of the championship curtain-raiser away to France.

Keenan has been virtually ever-present in his country’s number 15 jersey during the past three years but will miss Saturday’s match in Dublin due to a knee injury suffered in the round-two victory over Italy.

Head coach Andy Farrell, who has included uncapped Munster prop Oli Jager among the replacements, has made seven personnel changes to his starting XV from the 36-0 win over the Azzurri Italy on February 11.

Captain Peter O’Mahony, prop Tadhg Furlong and centre Bundee Aki return following injuries, while lock Tadhg Beirne, scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park and flanker Josh Van Der Flier are also recalled.

Second-row James Ryan, flanker Ryan Baird, number eight Jack Conan and centre Stuart McCloskey drop to a bench containing a six-two split of forwards and backs.

Prop Finlay Bealham and scrum-half Craig Casey have been left out of the matchday 23 after starting against Italy.

Lock Iain Henderson, who suffered a foot injury playing for Ulster last weekend, is not involved, while centre Garry Ringrose remains absent after missing the opening two rounds with a shoulder issue.

Frawley has been battling Jack Crowley and Harry Byrne for action at fly-half but Farrell has limited back-up options at full-back due to Jimmy O’Brien and Mack Hansen being ruled out of the entire tournament.

The full debutant has played a total of just 44 minutes of international rugby, during cameos in last summer’s World Cup warm-up win over Italy and the 38-17 victory over Les Bleus at the start of the month.

Crowley continues in the number 10 role, partnering Gibson-Park, with Aki and Robbie Henshaw in midfield and Calvin Nash and James Lowe retained on the wings.

In the front row, returning tighthead Furlong will pack down alongside Leinster team-mates Andrew Porter and Dan Sheehan, ahead of the second row pairing of Joe McCarthy and Beirne.

Caelan Doris, who stood in as skipper last time out, reverts from openside flanker to number eight. Van der Flier returns to the number seven role, while O’Mahony is back in at blindside flanker.

Hooker Ronan Kelleher, prop Cian Healy and scrum-half Conor Murray complete the bench.

Ireland are seeking a third successive win in this year’s championship – and an 18th in a row at home – after launching their title defence with back-to-back bonus-point victories over France and Italy.

Opponents Wales began with narrow defeats to Scotland and England and have not won a Six Nations fixture in Dublin since 2012.

Ireland back-rower Caelan Doris is expected to be fully fit to face Wales in the Guinness Six Nations, despite sitting out training on Tuesday.

The 25-year-old suffered “bumps and bruises” while captaining his country to a 36-0 win over Italy in round two of the championship.

Full-back Hugo Keenan is yet to train after being forced off by a knee injury against the Azzurri on February 11 but will be given chance to prove his fitness ahead of Saturday afternoon’s match in Dublin.

“Caelan didn’t train and that was the plan at the beginning of the week, just to manage him,” defence coach Simon Easterby told a press conference, according to the Irish Independent.

“But we’re expecting him to train fully tomorrow, so there should be no issue with Caelan.

“He is probably carrying a few (knocks), but more bumps and bruises.

“I guess he took a few hits against Italy and he’s in a good place but he needs to be managed in a couple of areas.

“We don’t expect him not to be fully fit for the weekend.”

Keenan has been almost ever-present in Ireland’s number 15 jersey during the past three years.

Asked for an update on the 27-year-old, Easterby said: “He’s good, and I think again, it’s sort of similar to Caelan.

“Hugo has been such a massive part of this group since he first made his debut a few years ago, so it’s important that we give him the opportunity to prove his fitness.

“But we are really excited as well about the opportunities that might present if he doesn’t make it.”

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell is due to name his team on Thursday afternoon.

Lock Iain Henderson is another doubt after sustaining a foot injury on Sunday during Ulster’s 19-17 United Rugby Championship defeat to the Ospreys.

Easterby said final calls on the fitness of Keenan, Doris and Henderson will be made on Wednesday.

“For someone like Caelan in particular, you wouldn’t want to leave it too late,” he said.

“You’d also want to make sure you give the guys that potentially do start the opportunity to get time in the saddle.

“It’s important that we grow the squad and grow the experience that the guys have and that’s the case for Caelan’s position and Hugo’s.”

Jack Conan acknowledges history-chasing Ireland could “fall flat on our face” if they become sidetracked by talk of successive Grand Slam titles.

Andy Farrell’s men are seeking to become the first side in the Guinness Six Nations era to complete consecutive championship clean sweeps.

Bonus-point victories over pre-tournament favourites France and perennial wooden spoon winners Italy have propelled the defending champions into pole position for more glory.

Winless Wales travel to Dublin in round three on February 24 before Ireland face further Triple Crown fixtures against England and Scotland next month.

Leinster back-rower Conan, who claimed the third of six tries in Sunday’s 36-0 demolition of the Azzurri, said: “I don’t think there’s a cautious excitement; there are just expectations within the group of what we do with the moment in front of your face.

“Before this week, there was no chat of Wales, Scotland, England, anything like that; it was Italy, Italy, Italy.

“That was all that mattered to us and that will be the case next week. It will all be about Wales.

“It’s great people outside of the environment (are excited about a potential Grand Slam), they can have that buzz all they want, but if we don’t go out and get the job done against Wales then we kind of fall flat on our face.

“We’re not looking at all past that, we’re not looking past the moment in front of our faces and just being present.

“It doesn’t always happen and there were loads of mistakes (against Italy) but I think it’s a pretty good starting point where we’re at at the moment.”

Head coach Farrell has received regular praise for creating an enjoyable environment in the Ireland camp.

Conan believes a selflessness among the group has been key to recent successes, including the 2022 tour victory in New Zealand and last year’s Grand Slam.

“The needs of the many are greater than the needs of the few so it’s important to fit in and do the role you’ve been asked to do,” said Conan, who has often been a replacement during that period.

“We’re very lucky that there are such good men in the group and good quality that no matter what is asked of people they do it and there’s no complaints.

“It’s an incredibly selfless group and you do what your team-mates and coaching staff ask of you.

“I think it’s one of the reasons why we’ve been so successful over the last few years because everyone wants to add to the value of the group.”

Number eight Conan on Sunday made his first Test start since suffering a foot injury against Italy last August, which limited his World Cup participation.

The 31-year-old British and Irish Lion, who made his international debut in 2015 but has been restricted to 43 caps, partly due to fitness setbacks, is determined to savour the remainder of his career.

“For all the things I’ve ever done, whether it’s Leinster or playing for the Lions, it is the greatest honour to play for your country and it’s definitely something that’s not lost on me,” Conan said.

“I try to relish every moment I’m out there, no matter how blowing you are or how tough it is, it’s something that comes and goes so quickly and I’ve had a lot of gaps in my career where I haven’t played.

“I’ve been in and out of teams. I have, by my own admission, under performed at times and you’ve just got to savour it when you get the opportunity and make the most of it.”

New Ireland star Joe McCarthy has been taking inspiration from American football but has no plans to follow former Wales wing Louis Rees-Zammit in chasing an NFL career.

Leinster lock McCarthy has been one of the standout performers of the opening two rounds of the Guinness Six Nations and was named man of the match on his championship debut against France.

The powerful 22-year-old’s eye-catching display in a 38-17 win over Les Bleus came just over a fortnight after 23-year-old Rees-Zammit stunned rugby union by quitting to pursue a dream in the United States.

New York-born McCarthy, who tuned in with international team-mates to watch Sunday’s Super Bowl as the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the San Francisco 49ers, said: “I love the defensive side of the game, probably like it more than the attack sometimes.

“They say defence wins championships, so it is good.

“I love getting off the line, I love pressuring teams, love getting them ‘man and ball,’ getting in at rucks. I like watching the defensive players in NFL, like seeing the stuff they do.

“At the moment I like Maxx Crosby from the (Las Vegas) Raiders. I liked JJ Watt (former Houston Texans and Arizona Cardinals defensive end) when he played. He is a beat, or was, he is retired now.

“I don’t think I’ll be changing over to the NFL any time soon. I’ll stick with the rugby.”

McCarthy retained his second-row spot for Sunday afternoon’s 36-0 victory over Italy in Dublin as defending Grand Slam champions Ireland backed up their statement success in Marseille.

Following his first Test cap against Australia in the autumn of 2022, he missed last year’s Six Nations due to injury before becoming the youngest member of Andy Farrell’s World Cup squad.

McCarthy admits his elevation at international level has brought increased scrutiny.

 

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“There is way more attention in the Six Nations, you can feel it, much more than club games,” he said.

“It is good, you are getting a lot of nice mentions; you’re trying to block it out and just go back to the process.

“I felt I was ready to go at that stage (in the 2023 Six Nations) but an ankle injury kept me out for a few months. That happens.

“It’s great to get an opportunity now and I am looking forward to it.”

Ireland return to action at home to Wales on February 24 before taking on England and Scotland next month.

Singing sensation Stevie Mulrooney was praised by Andy Farrell following his rousing rendition of Ireland’s Call ahead of Sunday’s Guinness Six Nations match with Italy in Dublin.

Eight-year-old Mulrooney went viral thanks to a passionate performance on the pitch in front of almost 52,000 spectators at a sold-out Aviva Stadium.

The schoolboy from Kilkenny sprang to prominence singing the rugby anthem on RTE’s Late Late Toy Show, before being invited to perform at Ireland’s opening home match of the championship by flanker Josh van der Flier.

He had to wait for his moment in the spotlight as Jennifer Dalton performed the Italian anthem and Amhran na bhFiann before stealing the show to catch the eye of Ireland boss Farrell and thousands of television viewers.

“Oh wow. I tell you, I was actually saying before the game, I was just watching him the whole time,” said Farrell, whose side won 36-0.

“I didn’t know whether he was standing with his mother or not but when I realised the other lady (Dalton) was not his mother and was singing the national anthem for the Italians… his confidence was amazing and I actually thought ‘I wish our lads are going to be like that’.

“He’s got his shoulders back, he was ready.

“He was waving to the crowd, stood there on his own. I thought: ‘this kid’s got it all’.

“He was amazing. He nailed it, didn’t he? It was a great start.”

Andy Farrell believes talk of leading Ireland to successive Grand Slam titles is premature as he attempts to build on the “feelgood factor” created by a resounding Guinness Six Nations victory over France.

Reigning champions Ireland made a statement of intent in Friday evening’s curtain-raiser in Marseille with a stunning 38-17 bonus-point success over the pre-tournament favourites.

The fixture has proved to be a championship decider in each of the past two years, with the Irish dethroning Les Bleus 12 months ago thanks to a 32-19 Dublin win, which avenged a 30-24 loss in Paris in 2022.

Head coach Farrell acknowledges victory at Stade Velodrome was “pretty special” but is focused on conducting a thorough review of the contest and striving for improvement rather than contemplating silverware.

“We want to be in it (title contention) at the last week but internally we’re hungry to be as good as we possibly can be,” he said.

“In reality it’s one win, it’s one win out of one and we’ve got to be on to the next one.

“It (the championship) is not won or lost but it’s about building on this.

“We tend to be pretty harsh on our performances when we’ve won because we’re able to do that and make some good points so hopefully we’re able to get better because of that.

“But the feelgood factor of a victory like that… it’s a special victory, it definitely is and it’s there to be celebrated, that’s for sure.”

Ireland host Italy on Sunday before welcoming Wales to the the Aviva Stadium on February 24, ahead of March appointments with England and Scotland.

Aside from a “few bangs and bruises”, Ireland emerged from their opening fixture unscathed, while centre Garry Ringrose will be assessed after sitting out due to a shoulder issue.

Farrell has rotated his squad against the Azzurri in previous years and will weigh up his options for the round-two clash.

“Whatever’s right for the team,” he said of selection for next weekend.

“There’s always the balance about opportunity but also doing what’s right for the team and the cohesion of the team going forward.

“It’s a bit of an awkward one, isn’t it? We’ve only had one game together so we’ll how we shape up on Monday.”

Andy Farrell insists he had no concerns about Ireland suffering a World Cup hangover during Friday’s thumping Guinness Six Nations win over France.

Both sides went into a blockbuster championship opener in Marseille on the back of having their dreams of lifting the Webb Ellis Cup shattered by narrow quarter-finals exits.

Reigning Grand Slam champions Ireland emphatically responded with a 38-17 bonus-point success at Stade Velodrome to begin their title defence with a bang and help ease memories of a painful last-eight loss to New Zealand in October.

“There are no hangovers with us,” said head coach Farrell.

“There’s a realisation of where we’re at and where we need to go to next and what we need to learn and that’s it.

“Hangovers are for tomorrow; we’re three months down the line – that’s a big hangover, if you can’t get over it in that time.

“We talk about our past performances all the time, sometimes we go back three years to say we learnt this or whatever.

“Of course we’ll learn big things from the All Blacks defeat but it’s not a hangover, it’s just the next step in how we progress going forward as a team and that’s how it should be in my opinion.”

Tries from Jamison Gibson-Park, Tadhg Beirne, Calvin Nash, Dan Sheehan and Ronan Kelleher stunned France to silence the majority of a capacity crowd at Stade Velodrome.

Les Bleus had little answer to their dominant visitors and played around 60 minutes of the match with 14 men after Paul Willemse was sin-binned and then sent off following high tackles on Andrew Porter and Caelan Doris.

Despite Ireland registering their biggest victory away to France, new captain Peter O’Mahony, who succeeded Johnny Sexton following the World Cup, believes there is significant room for improvement moving towards a round-two clash with Italy.

 

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“We’ve been on a journey for a long time and we’ve had lots of great experiences and banked them and we’ve had some tough ones and banked them as well,” said O’Mahony.

“It’s always about getting better and it was another step for the group.

“We spoke about it being a huge occasion for us but, at the same time, it’s just another game for us and how calm and composed we could really be in an environment like that out there.

“It was a great test for the group. We’ve plenty to work on but there were parts of the game that felt like a good performance.”

Andy Farrell hailed Ireland’s ruthlessness and composure after their Guinness Six Nations title defence was launched with a record-breaking five-try demolition of 14-man France.

The reigning Grand Slam champions propelled themselves into pole position for further championship glory by dismantling the ragged pre-tournament favourites 38-17 in Marseille.

Ireland’s bonus-point success, secured by tries from Jamison Gibson-Park, Tadhg Beirne, Calvin Nash, Dan Sheehan and Ronan Kelleher, plus 13 points from Jack Crowley, was their largest winning margin away to France.

Les Bleus’ quest for victory at a largely subdued Stade Velodrome was damaged by the 32nd-minute dismissal of lock Paul Willemse.

“We’d take any type of win here in Marseille to kick off the Six Nations but the more the game was going on, the more you saw a performance building,” said head coach Farrell.

“I thought we got exactly what we deserved in the end.

“Our composure, it wasn’t all singing all dancing and the French side was always going to pose questions and the crowd was always going to get behind them.

“But we managed to silence them quite a lot through good composure.

“The main thing for me would be our ability to stay on it for the full 80 minutes and keep attacking the game.

“When you’re playing against 14 men for a long period, sometimes subconsciously you tend to shut up shop a little bit more,

“I thought our intent was pretty good and we were pretty ruthless when we needed to be, then obviously on top of that I thought our line-out in attack and defence was outstanding.”

Both sides came into a mouth-watering tournament curtain-raiser on the back of agonising World Cup quarter-finals exits.

Ireland began in the ascendancy but received a helping hand from the indiscipline of Willemse, who was sent off in the 32nd minute following a high hit on Caelan Doris having previously been sin-binned for a similar challenge on Andrew Porter.

Scores either side of half-time from Damian Penaud and Paul Gabrillagues and seven points from the boot of Thomas Ramos gave the hosts hope but Farrell’s men were a class above.

New Ireland captain Peter O’Mahony, who spent a spell in the sin bin in the aftermath of Gabrillagues’ try for bringing down the maul, said: “I don’t think it gets any better really.

“With the stress of the last couple of days I’d have given the whole lot up for a win tonight.

“Away from home, first game up, Friday night, Marseille, the Velodrome, I’d have been a happy man packing the whole lot in tomorrow morning if you’d given me the chance to take a win.

“It’s the biggest margin that we’ve beaten France by.

“I remember as a young fella watching Irish teams and you’d be hoping that they’d hang on in there, whereas it’s a different animal now.”

France were often rudderless in the absence of star man Antoine Dupont, who is sitting out this year’s championship to focus on his country’s sevens squad for the Paris Olympics.

Les Bleus head coach Fabien Galthie said: “It’s clear that the attack game wasn’t really up to scratch, we dropped the ball, had less speed. We need to up our game in attack and defence.

“The important thing is we pick ourselves up and assume that defeat.”

Asked about Willemse’s indiscretions, Galthie replied: “I’m not going to speak about the future of this great player who was doing all he could to defend for the French team.

“They were technical errors, we know the referees don’t give any ground when the head is involved and that is quite right.”

Andy Farrell has urged Ireland to be courageous when they take on formidable pre-tournament favourites France in a “mouth-watering” Guinness Six Nations curtain-raiser.

The reigning Grand Slam champions are seeking to return to winning ways on Friday evening in Marseille following an agonising 28-24 World Cup quarter-final exit to New Zealand.

Although Les Bleus are without star man Antoine Dupont for this year’s championship, Ireland’s title defence in the post-Johnny Sexton era could not have begun with a tougher fixture.

Head coach Farrell, whose four changes from the loss to the All Blacks on October 14 include starts for Test rookies Joe McCarthy, Calvin Nash and Jack Crowley, wants his players to embrace the challenge at Stade Velodrome.

“We all realise it’s a huge game. It’s mouth-watering, isn’t it?” the Englishman said, according to the Irish Examiner.

“It will be a great game to watch, there’s no doubt about that and the stadium, the atmosphere, it being the first game of the Six Nations after a World Cup, if you can’t get excited about that, you’re in the wrong place.

“For us, it’s just living up to our own expectations, we expect to perform on the big stage and it doesn’t really get any bigger than this one.

“The exciting thing for me is are we brave enough, have we got enough courage to go and do what we said we’re going to do and obviously we’re playing against a world-class side.

“But if you want to be successful, if you want to try to be the best, then you’ve got to beat the best in places like this and the occasion doesn’t get much bigger.

“We’ve got to relish those types of occasions and go after them.”

Farrell has picked 22-year-old Leinster lock McCarthy ahead of experienced duo James Ryan and Iain Henderson, while Munster wing Nash, 26, will also make his Six Nations debut, in place of the injured Mack Hansen.

Meanwhile, Munster number 10 Crowley, 24, will start in the championship for the first time following the retirement of former captain Sexton.

“He’s a confident kid, Jack,” said Farrell, who has selected Leinster’s Ciaran Frawley on the bench as back-up fly-half.

“It’s tough for young kids, especially with responsibilities like in his position but he feels very comfortable in being able to do that.

“How you run a week is pretty important and you’re making sure that the rest of your team-mates feel that you’re in control. He’s obviously learned a lot from Johnny in that regard.

“But the only thing that matters is the performance, isn’t it? Taking that preparation – that’s been good, very good actually, in camp – and transferring it to a performance that we all want to see.”

Centre Robbie Henshaw comes in for Leinster team-mate Garry Ringrose, who has a shoulder issue, in the other alteration to Ireland’s starting XV.

Munster wing Calvin Nash and Leinster lock Joe McCarthy will make their Guinness Six Nations debuts in Ireland’s championship opener against France but centre Garry Ringrose misses out due to a shoulder issue.

Jack Crowley has been selected at fly-half for Friday evening’s curtain-raiser in Marseille following the retirement of former captain Johnny Sexton after the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

Andy Farrell’s starting XV, led by flanker Peter O’Mahony, shows just four changes from Ireland’s 28-24 quarter-final defeat to New Zealand on October 14, with Robbie Henshaw coming in for the sidelined Ringrose in the other alteration.

Twenty-six-year-old Nash, who won his only previous cap as a replacement in a 33-17 World Cup warm-up win over Italy last August, will line up on the right flank in place of the injured Mack Hansen.

McCarthy, 22, featured twice at the tournament in France and will partner Tadhg Beirne in the second row after being preferred to experienced duo James Ryan and Iain Henderson.

Ringrose was an option to switch positions and fill the void left by Connacht star Hansen but he has been ruled out by a bang on a shoulder.

The 29-year-old Leinster co-captain is expected to be back in contention for the round-two clash with Italy on February 11.

His absence sees Henshaw return to midfield, alongside 2023 World Rugby player of the year nominee Bundee Aki.

Munster number 10 Crowley, who has nine international caps, will make his full Six Nations debut to stake his claim as long-term successor to Sexton.

The 24-year-old’s only previous action in the championship was a three-minute cameo against Italy 12 months ago.

Ciaran Frawley, who – like Nash – won his one and only Test cap by coming on against the Azzurri last summer, will provide fly-half cover from the bench, while Harry Byrne – the younger brother of the injured Ross Byrne – must wait for his opportunity.

Title holders Ireland defeated France 32-19 in Dublin last February en route to dethroning their rivals as Grand Slam champions.

Andrew Porter, Dan Sheehan and Tadhg Furlong continue in an unchanged front row, with fellow Leinster players Josh van der Flier and Caelan Doris joining new skipper O’Mahony at the base of the pack.

Jamison Gibson-Park retains the scrum-half role ahead of Conor Murray, with James Lowe on the left wing and Hugo Keenan at full-back.

Veteran prop Cian Healy returns to the bench at Stade Velodrome after missing the World Cup with a calf injury.

The 36-year-old loosehead is joined by Ronan Kelleher, Finlay Bealham, Ryan, Ryan Baird, Jack Conan, Murray and Frawley.

Ireland team: H Keenan (Leinster); C Nash (Munster), R Henshaw (Leinster), B Aki (Connacht), J Lowe (Leinster); J Crowley (Munster), J Gibson-Park (Leinster); A Porter (Leinster), D Sheehan (Leinster), T Furlong (Leinster), J McCarthy (Leinster), T Beirne (Munster), P O’Mahony (Munster, capt), J van der Flier (Leinster), C Doris (Leinster).

Replacements: R Kelleher (Leinster), C Healy (Leinster), F Bealham (Connacht), J Ryan (Leinster), R Baird (Leinster), J Conan (Leinster), C Murray (Munster), C Frawley (Leinster).

Peter O’Mahony says being selected to succeed Johnny Sexton as Ireland captain is one of the proudest moments of his life.

The vastly-experienced Munster flanker will steer his country through the forthcoming Guinness Six Nations after Sexton retired following last year’s World Cup quarter-final exit to New Zealand.

O’Mahony, who first skippered Ireland in a 15-12 win over the United States in June 2013, has won 101 Test caps for his country, plus one for the British and Irish Lions.

Head coach Andy Farrell picked the 34-year-old for the role ahead of the likes of James Ryan, Iain Henderson, Garry Ringrose and Caelan Doris.

“Ever since I was a boy starting off in the game, I have always dreamed of captaining Ireland,” said O’Mahony.

“I have been asked to lead Ireland on a number of occasions previously and each of those 10 matches were special days.

“To be now asked to captain Ireland ahead of the Six Nations is without doubt one of the proudest moments of my life and I would like to thank Andy for this show of faith in me.”

O’Mahony guided Munster to last season’s United Rugby Championship title but stepped down as skipper of his province in November after 10 years in the role.

He also captained the Lions in their opening Test against the All Blacks in 2017.

O’Mahony’s future has been subject to speculation due to his central contract with the Irish Rugby Football Union being set to expire at the end of the season.

Yet Farrell, whose 34-man selection features no uncapped players and no real surprises, had little hesitation in choosing him to spearhead Ireland’s title defence.

“He is a born leader and someone who has been an influential figure for Munster and Ireland for many years,” said Farrell.

“I am confident that the squad will continue to benefit from his leadership skills, both on and off the field.

“He is thoroughly deserving of this honour and I know that he will relish working closely with the wider leadership group and squad over the coming campaign.”

Farrell has kept faith with 26 of the players who travelled to the World Cup in France.

Jack Crowley, who has just nine caps, is likely to step into Sexton’s shoes as Ireland’s first-choice fly-half, with inexperienced Leinster pair Ciaran Frawley and Harry Byrne providing back up.

Fellow number 10 Ross Byrne, front-row forwards Dave Kilcoyne and Rob Herring and backs Mack Hansen and Jimmy O’Brien miss out due to injuries, while Sexton and Keith Earls have retired.

In addition to Frawley and Harry Byrne, there are recalls for their provincial team-mates Cian Healy and Jordan Larmour, Ulster trio Tom Stewart, Nick Timoney and Jacob Stockdale and Munster wing Calvin Nash.

Munster pair Oli Jager and Thomas Ahern and Leinster’s Sam Prendergast are uncapped training panellists.

Reigning Grand Slam champions Ireland begin the tournament on February 2 against France in Marseille.

“We have a strong core of leaders who will all play a key role in driving the highest standards for the team over the coming weeks,” added new skipper O’Mahony.

“Competition is red-hot across the squad and we’re all hugely motivated to work hard when we meet up next week ahead of the opening game in Marseille.”

Ireland boss Andy Farrell has selected Peter O’Mahony as captain for the Guinness Six Nations.

Munster flanker O’Mahony takes on the role from Johnny Sexton, who retired following last year’s Rugby World Cup quarter-final defeat to New Zealand in Paris.

The 34-year-old, who first skippered Ireland in a 15-12 win over the United States in June 2013, has won 101 Test caps for his country, plus one for the British and Irish Lions.

“Ever since I was a boy starting off in the game, I have always dreamed of captaining Ireland,” said O’Mahony.

“I have been asked to lead Ireland on a number of occasions previously, and each of those 10 matches were special days.

“To be now asked to captain Ireland ahead of the Six Nations is without doubt one of the proudest moments of my life and I would like to thank Andy for this show of faith in me.”

Head coach Farrell’s 34-man selection does not include any uncapped players.

However, there are recalls for Leinster quartet Cian Healy, Harry Byrne, Ciaran Frawley and Jordan Larmour, Ulster trio Tom Stewart, Nick Timoney and Jacob Stockdale, and Munster wing Calvin Nash.

Reigning Grand Slam champions Ireland begin the championship on February 2 against France in Marseille.

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