Gareth Thomas believes a fast start is vital for Wales in their quest to claim an odds-defying victory over Guinness Six Nations title favourites Ireland on Saturday.

Wales have been largely written off, heading to Dublin after suffering nine defeats in their last  10 Six Nations games to face an Ireland side chasing successive Grand Slams.

Andy Farrell’s team have won 38 of their last 40 Tests at home, being beaten only by England in 2019 and France two years later during that time.

They are also closing in on a Six Nations record-equalling 11 successive wins, remaining undefeated since France toppled them two years ago.

And Wales must halt a poor recent Dublin record, having not landed a Six Nations win there there for 12 years when Leigh Halfpenny’s late penalty secured a 23-21 triumph.

“It is obviously going to be a challenge for us,” Wales prop Thomas said.

“But talking to the boys in the week and last week and saying how exciting it is if we get it right in terms of what we need to do, it will be a class challenge for us.

“It is going to hurt, but it is going to feel good if we get those bits right.

“I think starting fast, just going at them, not accepting their style of play, because if they get what they want they will be very good.

“I think just going after them, going at them, beating them physically, if we don’t start like that then we have no chance.

“They are playing some really good rugby at the minute, but watching the first two games (against France and Italy), people are letting them play like that.

“So it is up to us to go at them defensively and stop that smooth kind of attack they have got.”

Much has been made of a new-look Wales Six Nations squad, with Test rookies like Cameron Winnett and Alex Mann performing impressively during narrow defeats against Scotland and England.

Bath prop Archie Griffin joined them in making an international debut during the tournament, and 20-year-old Cardiff forward Mackenzie Martin will follow suit if he features off the bench this weekend.

And while Wales might no longer have the services of players like Halfpenny, Louis Rees-Zammit and Dan Biggar available – or, for the current Six Nations, injured trio Jac Morgan, Dewi Lake and Taulupe Faletau – green shoots are evident.

Thomas added: “We have lost a lot of senior boys, which is always difficult, but I am enjoying trying to help the younger boys who haven’t had that experience yet.

“We have got a group of young boys who are listening, learning and working really hard, so there is a good energy about the place.

“It is such a fine margin in terms of getting those two games to be wins (Wales lost to Scotland and England by a combined margin of three points).

“Give us those two wins, and we are in a very good place.

“The amount of effort that has gone into those first two games, we are going to need the same again, but close the game off a little bit better as well.”

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.”

Fly-half Sam Costelow has been recalled to the Wales starting line-up for Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations clash against Ireland in Dublin.

The Scarlets number 10 went off because of a neck problem suffered when Wales were beaten 27-26 by opening Six Nations opponents Scotland.

He was replaced by Ioan Lloyd, who started at fly-half in the Twickenham appointment with England, but Costelow now returns as a solitary change from that game.

Elsewhere, there are further starts for squad newcomers Cameron Winnett and Alex Mann, while centre George North wins his 120th cap and is only the third Wales player to reach that mark after Alun Wyn Jones and Gethin Jenkins.

Wales prop Keiron Assiratti is set to face Guinness Six Nations opponents Ireland a year after his professional rugby career hung in the balance.

He considered signing for Welsh Premiership club Merthyr as the regional game in Wales grappled with major financial issues that stalled contract offers to players.

Assiratti had nothing on the table from Cardiff, and he seriously considered dropping down a level, while also potentially finding work outside of rugby.

But the subsequent turnaround in fortunes surpassed all expectations, with a one-year deal eventually being signed last summer before an extended contract was agreed midway through this season.

Wales head coach Warren Gatland also came calling, handing the 26-year-old a Test debut against World Cup warm-up opponents England.

Although Assiratti missed out on World Cup squad selection, he has made a strong impression in the Six Nations with his displays in defeat to Scotland and England.

Runaway title favourites Ireland now await in Dublin next weekend, with Assiratti top of the props on the tighthead side of Wales’ scrum.

“It is a big change, to be fair,” he said.

“This time 12 months ago I didn’t know what I was doing with my rugby. Now, I can say I am doing quite well, so it has been a big turnaround.

“I had to think about getting a job for my family to try and secure everything.

“I was thinking of signing for Merthyr. That is what I was going to do. I didn’t think I was going to get anything at Cardiff at that time.

“I was speaking to one of the Merthyr coaches, but I also let things play out at Cardiff, then I had a run of games and now here I am.

“I wasn’t playing at all in the first half of last season, and it was really frustrating. I had to stick at it because I have got a family.

“Now, when I think about what could have been and what is happening, I am glad I stuck at it.”

When Assiratti featured against England in August 2023, he fulfilled a promise he made to his late grandfather almost two years earlier.

Assiratti and his Cardiff team-mates were stuck in isolation at a Cape Town hotel during the coronavirus pandemic, having travelled to play two United Rugby Championship games, when he had a final telephone conversation with his grandfather before he died.

He told him during the call that he would play for Wales, and Assiratti now heads to Dublin as first-choice tighthead.

“I would love him to still be here, but I am doing it for my family now. Hopefully, he is up there feeling proud,” Assiratti added.

“I am enjoying playing and having the exposure of my first Six Nations.

“It was good to go up against Joe Marler at the weekend, a really experienced loosehead, and it was a good battle between us.

“It is going to be a test for us going out there (to Dublin) with a young squad, but as (captain) Daf Jenkins has said, we can’t keep going on about having a young squad. We just have to go there and meet fire with fire.

“I feel like it’s going to come, so people just have to be a little patient with us.”

Paul O’Connell believes the legacy of influential former captain Johnny Sexton lives on among Ireland’s 2024 Guinness Six Nations squad.

The reigning Grand Slam champions have made a strong start to the post-Sexton era by bouncing back from Rugby World Cup disappointment with successive championship wins over France and Italy.

Forwards coach O’Connell admits there was a degree of trepidation about how the team would respond to the agonising quarter-final defeat to New Zealand and losing their long-serving leader.

Sexton, 38, retired immediately after the 28-24 Paris loss in October but has been credited with having a lasting impact on senior members of Andy Farrell’s squad, including new skipper Peter O’Mahony.

“I suppose you’re very hopeful that the work we’ve done with all of the players kind of comes through, but you’re a bit nervous that it might not happen as well,” O’Connell said of the new era.

“We’re only two games in so we’ve plenty of battles ahead of us.

“I think one thing that maybe Johnny has given a lot of the guys is he’s shown how much you have to care about the team and how much you have to care about how you prepare.

“He’s been a great example to some of the guys that are going to end up as leaders in the team.

“While he’s gone, his legacy from how he used to go about his business still lives on with us.

“A lot of the guys – Peter O’Mahony, Caelan Doris, James Ryan, Iain Henderson, Garry Ringrose – they’ve a few of his qualities in them that helps us arrive to a good place every Saturday when we play.”

Ireland resume their title defence at home to Wales on February 24, ahead of March appointments with England and Scotland.

Many pundits already feel it is a formality that Farrell’s men will become the first side to claim back-to-back Grand Slams in the Six Nations era.

Former Ireland captained O’Connell, who won the competition three times as a player, thinks players are adept at “ignoring the bigger picture”.

“We talk about winning, for sure, we always want to win the tournaments we’re playing in and we talk about winning them but once we’ve cleared that up, we don’t really talk about it much more,” said the 44-year-old.

“We just focus on the next game. We focus on what needs to be better for the next game and get excited about doing the things we feel might lead to a performance.

“It’s something that the players do really well. It’s a practised skill being next-game focused.

“Andy’s big into it; Joe Schmidt (former Ireland head coach) was big into it back in the day and a lot of the players are big into it because it helps them prepare properly by ignoring the bigger picture.”

Ireland forwards coach Paul O’Connell believes being without star full-back Hugo Keenan against Wales could be a blessing in disguise.

Keenan suffered a knee issue during Sunday’s 36-0 Guinness Six Nations win over Italy and did not take part in physical training on Thursday.

The influential 27-year-old, who is yet to be ruled out of the round-three clash with Warren Gatland’s men on February 24 in Dublin, has been virtually ever-present in the number 15 jersey during the past three years.

Aside from Keenan, only the injured Jimmy O’Brien and out of favour Michael Lowry have started at full-back for Ireland since the end of 2020.

“He didn’t train today but he hasn’t been ruled out for the Welsh game yet,” O’Connell said of Keenan.

“He’s progressing with his rehabilitation. He was there at training today and he took part in all the organisational bits.

“He plays a big role. He’s obviously injury-free for a very long time, he’s an excellent player.

“It’s probably good for us in some ways because it makes us play someone else there if he doesn’t make it.

“But I’m not sure yet where he’s at. He was around training today so we’d be hopeful.”

Fly-half Jack Crowley filled in for Keenan in the closing stages against the Azzurri, while Ciaran Frawley is another potential replacement.

Current squad members Jordan Larmour and Jacob Stockdale were given opportunities at 15 early in Andy Farrell’s reign but have barely featured in selections since.

“At full-back, you’re covering the back field defensively and he (Keenan) has a lot of work to do in attack as well,” said O’Connell.

“There’s a lot of IP (intellectual property) that we might miss out on if he wasn’t playing.

“He also plays a big leadership role for us. He’s a very smart guy, he’s a problem-solver within the group, he’s highly regarded within the group.

“Whether he’s there or not, he’ll continue to play that role.”

Reigning champions Ireland top the table following back-to-back bonus-point wins over France and Italy.

Keenan was the only member of Farrell’s squad to sit out Thursday’s session.

Captain Peter O’Mahony, prop Tadhg Furlong and centres Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose each featured following their respective injury issues.

Former Ireland skipper O’Connell believes Ringrose, who is yet to feature in this year’s tournament due to a shoulder problem, is on track to return against Wales.

“It looks like it, he trained today, we didn’t do a massive session,” he said. “He’s in good shape.”

Adam Beard says Wales will relish the size of their challenge against Guinness Six Nations title favourites Ireland in Dublin.

Wales have not won a Six Nations game at the Aviva Stadium since 2012, drawing one and losing four of the subsequent meetings.

And they face an Ireland side firmly on course to achieve an historic feat of winning Six Nations Grand Slams in successive seasons.

Having accounted for France and Italy in bonus-point fashion, Andy Farrell’s team will be backed by many to inflict similar pain on Wales on February 24.

Wales lost their opening games to Scotland and England – albeit by a combined total of just three points – so a tall order awaits them.

“Physicality is going to be one of the key components of the game,” 53-cap Wales lock Beard said.

“You see the way Ireland play their rugby. It is all about speed, winning collisions and the breakdown.

“Defensively, we have to match up with that physical battle, and in attack it’s about being clinical and physical. It will be a tough game, but one we are looking forward to.

“Ireland are a team that are playing with confidence, and it helps when a lot of them play club rugby together. We are excited to get stuck into them.”

Wales have a new look about them in this season’s Six Nations, with Leigh Halfpenny and Dan Biggar having retired from Test rugby, Louis Rees-Zammit now concentrating on a possible American football career and the likes of Jac Morgan, Taulupe Faletau and Dewi Lake all injured.

It has meant Six Nations opportunities for others, including players like Cameron Winnett, Ioan Lloyd, Archie Griffin and Alex Mann, while 21-year-old Exeter lock Dafydd Jenkins is Wales’ youngest captain for 56 years.

Beard added: “We are not far away. This squad is fairly new and boys are experiencing Six Nations rugby for the first time.

“These narrow losses (27-26 against Scotland and 16-14 against England) are disappointing, but can be good for us because it is a learning curve for a lot of players.

“If we keep working hard and developing our game, we are going to be a tough squad to beat and winning a lot more games than we are losing.

“It has probably been two great 40-minute performances from each game. We are a young squad, but Daf Jenkins hit the nail on the head after the (England) game that we can’t use that as an excuse.”

Beard has been impressed with Jenkins’ leadership, a quality he has carried into the tournament after skippering Exeter this season to strong positions in the Gallagher Premiership and Investec Champions Cup.

“He is doing great,” Beard said.

“There are a lot of leaders in this squad, and we are trying to help him out as much as possible and not have too much weight on his shoulders.

“He has had a lot of experience captaining Exeter, and he has taken things in his stride.

“It has not affected his performances in any shape or form. He has been playing some of his best rugby.

“He speaks when he needs to speak, and people listen.”

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.”

Fly-half Paolo Garbisi believes Italy are ready for the “most difficult match in world rugby” and expects facing Ireland to be twice as tough as taking on England.

The Azzurri meet the reigning Guinness Six Nations champions in Dublin on Sunday after beginning their campaign with a narrow 27-24 loss to Steve Borthwick’s side in Rome.

Ireland are overwhelming favourites for victory at a sold-out Aviva Stadium to keep themselves on course for back-to-back Grand Slam titles following a five-try demolition of France.

Montpellier man Garbisi, who acknowledges his country have been underdogs in almost every match since joining the championship in 2000, is braced for the ultimate test.

“Of course we were pretty proud of our performance (against England),” he told the PA news agency.

“We knew that that wasn’t perfect, otherwise probably we would have won that game, so a lot of points to improve on and to work on.

“But we know that this week is going to be probably twice harder. We know what’s coming and I think we’re ready.

“I think it’s the most difficult match in world rugby right now. We play one of the best sides at their place.

“It’s the first time they play at home in this Six Nations so it’s probably the most difficult thing to do in rugby this time.”

Italy have never won a Six Nations match on Irish soil, with their only championship success in the fixture a 22-15 Stadio Olimpico victory in 2013.

Pundits and bookmakers give the Azzurri, who endured a miserable World Cup campaign before Gonzalo Quesada replaced Kieran Crowley as head coach, little chance of changing that statistic this weekend.

“We try not to put that much attention on those things,” said Garbisi.

“I think it’s 20 years that people don’t give us chances so we don’t really care about that. We try to prepare as well as we can so we can perform as well as we can.

“We know that they’re very good in everything they do: attack, defence, kicking game. But I think what impressed me the most are the rucks, how they can reach the rucks to slow the ball down for the opposition – that’s something they’re really good at.

“If we can keep the pace of our breakdowns quick, we could manage to put them in trouble.”

Garbisi will be pitted against rival number 10 Jack Crowley this weekend after former Ireland captain Johnny Sexton retired following the World Cup.

The 23-year-old feels the departure of the influential Sexton has left a void but thinks 24-year-old Crowley has a “very, very bright future”.

“It’s quite a difference because the leadership that Sexton could provide to their team was amazing,” said Garbisi.

“I think it was a different team when he was playing and when he was not.

“Crowley is a very good number 10 and he’s quite young – I think he’s my age – so I think he has a very, very bright future to lead Ireland forward.”

Italy have lost back-row forwards Sebastian Negri and Lorenzo Cannone to injury but mercurial full-back Ange Capuozzo is back from illness.

“We hope he’s going to make a big difference for us,” Garbisi said of Capuozzo.

“But it’s not only on him, it’s on us as well to try to give him good balls to attack and to put him in good spaces where he can have one on ones against defenders so he can use his feet and his quickness.”

Ireland are hopeful centre Garry Ringrose will be available for Sunday’s Guinness Six Nations match against Italy in Dublin.

Leinster co-captain Ringrose is “progressing nicely” in his recovery from the shoulder injury which caused him to miss his country’s 38-17 round-one win over France.

The 29-year-old was again absent from training on Wednesday but Ireland’s coaching staff expect to have a fully-fit squad in contention for the Azzurri’s visit to the Aviva Stadium.

“We are pretty confident that everyone will be fit to train fully tomorrow,” assistant coach Mike Catt told reporters, according to RTE.

“There are a few guys obviously with a few bumps and bruises from Friday night. There are a couple that are still rumbling around.

“Calvin (Nash), Hugo (Keenan), Ringer is coming through nicely. He obviously didn’t train today, but he is progressing nicely.

“We will see how they pull up over the next couple of days.”

With Ringrose sidelined, Robbie Henshaw partnered Bundee Aki in midfield for Friday evening’s impressive bonus-point triumph in Marseille.

The statement success over the pre-tournament favourites fuelled talk of Andy Farrell’s Ireland becoming the first team to win back-to-back Grand Slams in the Six Nations era.

Attack coach Catt urged players to ignore the “external noise” and focus on immediate challenges.

“There’s no need to (get ahead of ourselves), is there,” he said.

“Andy has always spoken about the next performance, that’s been the key thing.

“From the players’ point of view, too, the Grand Slam will take care of itself if we perform to a level we are capable of performing.

“It’s making sure we put our focus on that and don’t worry about the external noise.”

Head coach Farrell is contemplating changes for the clash with Gonzalo Quesada’s side.

Italy have only once beaten Ireland in the Six Nations – 22-15 in Rome in 2013 – but pushed England close in a 27-24 defeat on the opening weekend.

“What I liked about the Italy performance (against England) was, they didn’t have a great World Cup,” said Catt, who was part of the Azzurri’s coaching staff between 2016 and 2019.

“I think they put their hands up to that as a group of players.

“And for them to turn around and put in a performance like that against a good England side was very impressive.

“They are obviously trying to impress the new coach as well and I just thought the way they played, they didn’t go away from their DNA in terms of (how) they’ve played over the last couple of years.

“I think with Quesada, they’ll tighten things up a little bit but when they get going, they caused some serious problems by scoring some very, very good tries.”

Ireland are hopeful centre Garry Ringrose will be available for Sunday’s Guinness Six Nations match against Italy in Dublin.

Leinster co-captain Ringrose is “progressing nicely” in his recovery from the shoulder injury which caused him to miss his country’s 38-17 round-one win over France.

The 29-year-old was again absent from training on Wednesday but Ireland’s coaching staff expect to have a fully-fit squad in contention for the Azzurri’s visit to the Aviva Stadium.

“We are pretty confident that everyone will be fit to train fully tomorrow,” assistant coach Mike Catt told reporters, according to RTE.

“Ringer (Ringrose) is coming through nicely, he didn’t train today, but progressing nicely.

“(There are) a few guys with bumps and bruises, a couple that are still rumbling around.”

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.”

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