2023 Guinness Six Nations report card: Ireland

It was a Guinness Six Nations campaign dreams are made of for Andy Farrell and his Ireland team.

It was a Guinness Six Nations campaign dreams are made of for Andy Farrell and his Ireland team.

Johnny Sexton had a send off befitting of a true Championship legend, winning the Grand Slam in Dublin for the first time ever, and on St Patrick’s Day weekend no less.

Their winning run was extended to 10 and every victory denied their opponents a losing bonus point, while 13 different try-scorers proved a sustainable reliance on the team rather than individuals.

Top marks are in order then.

Star performer – Hugo Keenan

A well-oiled machine does not have star cogs, and it feels remiss to pick out just one player from this ruthless Ireland team.

Caelan Doris, Josh van der Flier, Mack Hansen, James Lowe, James Ryan and skipper Sexton could all lay a claim to be Ireland’s standout player over the five matches for various reasons.

But full-back Hugo Keenan is our pick, not only for his stunning finish for his side’s opening try in the Round 2 showdown with France.

The 26-year-old topped the Championship charts for metres made, broke 11 tackles and was unfailingly reliable under the high ball.

Breakthrough player – Craig Casey

For very different reasons, it is just as difficult to select a breakthrough player from Ireland’s ranks.

Farrell has kept a relatively settled squad, arguably a key reason why they have been so successful.

Finlay Bealham deputised admirably for the injured Tadhg Furlong at tighthead before suffering an injury of his own, but the prop has far too much experience to be classed as a ‘breakthrough’.

On the other hand, the fresh-faced Craig Casey impressed in his pair of cameos, especially against France, and earned himself a debut international start against Italy in the absence of Jamison Gibson-Park.

Future prospects

As much as Ireland will take the time to soak in a fourth Guinness Six Nations Grand Slam, there is a tall challenge on the horizon.

Fixtures against Italy and England in August will serve as ample preparation in their bid to reach a first ever Rugby World Cup semi-final.

To do so, Ireland will need to escape a group containing the formidable South Africa and a newly-energised Scotland.

They have defeated both during the course of their 10-match winning streak, but France and New Zealand – the only teams to have beaten Ireland in their last 24 matches – will be lurking in the quarter-finals in all likelihood.

Nevertheless, Ireland will not, and should not fear anybody on the evidence of a near perfect Guinness Six Nations campaign.


The thrilling win over France in Round 2 was all-important in Ireland’s successful quest for the Grand Slam, but the Super Saturday victory over England cannot be matched for euphoria.

The 29-16 win was fraught with nerves in the early stages, but the prize on offer – celebrating a clean sweep at the epicentre of a quaking Aviva Stadium for the first time ever – was too alluring to let slip.

Once Freddie Steward was shown red on the stroke of half-time, the pressure eased and the hosts were able to break down England’s defence with three tries in 15 minutes.

By the time Jaco Peyper blew the full-time whistle, the celebrations had already begun.

Biggest positives

When Ireland did encounter a setback they bounced back strongly and more often than not, in double quick time.

When they conceded to go 13-7 down against France despite having been on top during the opening quarter, rather than feeling sorry for themselves they responded within three minutes thanks to James Lowe’s sublime finish.

Then, when trailing against Scotland in a cauldron-like atmosphere at BT Murrayfield, Ireland massaged the emotion out of the occasion before running out comfortable winners.

A key factor in their ability to control matches was their unrivalled discipline – they conceded a competition low 44 penalties and finished the Championship as the only side not to receive a card.


Commenting after the Round 4 victory over Scotland, Andy Farrell said he was pleased to see Ireland maintaining standards into the final quarter, having felt there had been a drop off around the hour mark in the opening three matches.

The man advantage of course played its part in their haul of 19 points in the final 19 minutes against England, with Farrell’s side ruthless against weary bodies.

Still, it seems that Farrell wants more from his players in the closing stages, perhaps with the World Cup in mind when knockout matches are bound to be closely contested for the full 80 minutes.

Perhaps the only other point of improvement for Ireland is adding depth to the back three positions. The trio of Hugo Keenan, Mack Hansen and James Lowe were the only unit that started all five games for Ireland, and when Jimmy O’Brien came on for Keenan against England, he took a while to find his feet.

Making sure there are oven-ready players who can deputise for those three in the months ahead will be difficult but a must if Ireland are to remain an all-conquering force.


Ireland achieved all that they set out to at the beginning of the Championship.

They cemented their status as the world’s best side while also giving Johnny Sexton his Guinness Six Nations swansong – and most importantly of all, securing a long overdue Grand Slam on home soil.

It is a few weeks that will take some topping. Backing up their performances from this year’s campaign will be challenging, but with no obvious weaknesses and some players still yet to hit their full potential, it is difficult to see how this Ireland side are stopped.