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Andy Farrell hails Ireland’s Six Nations preparations : PlanetRugby

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell has hailed his side’s preparations for this year’s Six Nations as the best he has seen.

Farrell’s side head into the tournament as one of the two front runners along with France and aim to hit the ground running with a clash in Cardiff against Wales.

Ireland have not won at the Principality Stadium in 10 years, but Farrell believes that solid foundations have been laid in preparing for the Six Nations.

Top drawer preparations

Being the top-ranked side in World Rugby in a World Cup year comes with its pressures, but Farrell insists he is not looking beyond Warren Gatland’s Wales team and a tricky Cardiff opener.

“We judge ourselves on our preparation, and our preparation has been top-drawer,” he explained.

“It’s been as good as I’ve seen it in regards to getting ready for any type of competition.

“Hopefully, that continues, and it can translate into a performance. It doesn’t really get any tougher than Wales first up.”

Ireland are the first team since the world rankings were introduced to head into a Six Nations campaign ranked world number one.

When asked what message he had given the players going into 2023, Farrell replied: “Honestly? Just Wales. Just Wales. It’s a tough old game, you know?

“We’d love to start this tournament off with a bang, but we know how difficult that is. We’ve full concentration on this game.”

Competition in the squad

Ireland lost just one game during the Six Nations last year to Grand Slam champions France but clinched the Triple Crown with wins over Wales, Scotland and England. They secured a 2-1 series victory over the All Blacks, losing the first Test but finishing the year strongly by toppling the world champion Springboks.

Farrell has named an experienced side for the opening weekend with an average of 35 Test caps per player, just three less than the most experienced side this weekend – Wales.

However, they will be without the services of star prop Tadhg Furlong, with Finlay Bealham earning a rare start. Farrell hopes that competition for starting roles will continue.

“The 23 that get to take the field for the first game, they’re the lucky ones; they’re in the driving seat,” he said.

“There is a good sense of togetherness within the squad, but good competition for players is where it should be.

“The other lads are waiting and watching and preparing for a chance. Hopefully, they will be ready to take it if and when needed.”

Tight battle with Wales

Furlong is expected to be fit after the clash with Wales but uncapped Munster prop Roman Salanoa has been added to their group as a precaution.

Forwards coach Paul O’Connell anticipates another close battle with Wales as he believes the gap is narrowing between the Test nations.

“It seems in international rugby the top teams have gotten closer and closer over the last number of years, and there’s very little between teams,” said O’Connell.

“We had a good autumn, but it could have been a disappointing autumn as well but for a few points here and there. I’ve no doubt tomorrow will be a tight game as well.

“But we’re in a good place; we’ve good clarity on what we’re doing. There’s real good leadership and ownership in the group, so they’re in a good place to put out a good performance.”

READ MORE: Wales v Ireland: Six Nations preview as visitors set to prevail in Cardiff arm-wrestle

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