A Grand Slam, eleven consecutive victories, including a historic tour in New Zealand where Ireland had never won, a place of world N.1, a first success in Cardiff in the Tournament since 2013 ... the XV of the Clover seems intractable six months before the World Cup in France (8 September-28 October), of which he is one of the favorites.
On the road to this Grand Slam, only the fourth in their history (1948, 2009, 2018), Andy Farrell's men even dominated the Blues (32-19), the last opponent in the top ten in the world that they had not beaten, by inflicting the heaviest defeat of the Fabien Galthié era.
And it wasn't just the four tries scored that hurt Antoine Dupont's teammates, who have been unbeaten for fourteen matches so far. It is above all the gap in the game, in the mastery and in the fluidity between the two nations.
Irish hooker Dan Sheehan (r) runs for a try against England, on March 18, 2023 in Dublin © PAUL FAITH / AFP
"Everyone is a tone below Ireland at the moment, they are really impressive. The Ireland team inevitably takes over the control of its game. They believe so much in what they do that they continue, they continue and it ends up cracking," former French international Fabien Pelous (118 caps between 1995 and 2007) told AFP.
"Comfortable in chaos"
"They control their game, they make very few mistakes, technical or regulation. Every point, you have to go and win it hard against them. Ireland control its game as never before I have seen a team master its game, even the All Blacks double world champions, "said the former captain of the Blues.
The secret of this foolproof insurance comes from Andy Farrell.
Ireland England coach Andy Farrell (l) and opener Johnny Sexton before the match against England, on March 18, 2023 in Dublin © Paul Faith / AFP
When he arrived as Ireland's head coach in 2020, Farrell was just an English defence coach who replaced the immensely popular Joe Schmidt, who was keen to return to New Zealand.
Strongly criticized, the father of the captain of the XV de la Rose returned opinion and players based on the work of Schmidt, obsessive and ruthless technician, who had set up a team with a rather pragmatic game based on its traditional strengths: aggressiveness around the rucks, skill in touch, on the group-penetrating or under the high balls, and footwork.
Farrell has added a dose of imagination and risk-taking to make the Clover XV a relentless winning machine, with a well-oiled game plan with metronome Johnny Sexton (37 years, 111 caps) still at the helm.
"The most important thing is to be ourselves. We have to play our game," said Farrell, who the Irish press likes to say has "removed the chains" from his team.
He has launched or revived players such as scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park, while prop Andrew Porter, forwards Tadhg Beirne and Caelan Doris have become indispensable and centre Bundee Aki has added subtlety to his game.
Finally, wingers Mack Hansen and James Lowe appear untouchable, while Sexton seems eternal at 37.
"Andy is really an attacking coach. It's a different style (from Schmidt, editor's note), a different coach with a different vision on the game. He wants the players to express themselves, they want wingers who get their hands on the ball and score tries," former Racing 92 Ireland international Simon Zebo said recently.
Irish winger James Lowe (l), tackled by England winger Anthony Watson, on March 18, 2023 in Dublin © Paul Faith / AFP
"The atmosphere in the group is more relaxed, the players enjoy themselves and that's as important as playing well or training well," he added.
The obvious cohesion is not unrelated to the fact that a majority of the team on each of the match sheets of the Tournament plays in Leinster, in the Irish franchise vice-champion of Europe, which walks on the Champions Cup, first of its pool with 184 points scored in four games. A formidable cocktail.
© 2023 AFP