Former Ireland and Munster winger Andrew Conway gives us his thoughts on the Championship, looks ahead to the future for Ireland, and talks Lions captains.

Who was your Player of the Championship?

Bundee Aki. He’s continued his form. He was Ireland’s best player at the World Cup and the best performer through the Championship, which we won, so it’s hard to look past him.

What was your favourite try?

Calvin Nash’s try against Italy, where Stuart McCloskey carried up, rode the tackle and made that offload to Jack Crowley.

Your favourite moment of the tournament?

Italy beating Scotland, for many reasons - not least because there’s no love lost between us and the Scots. I was delighted for Italy. They’d had such a tough World Cup and then a change of head coach. The Six Nations needs them to be competitive, and for them to show up like they did this Championship and get two wins and a draw is brilliant.

Which player stepped up the most for Ireland?

I thought Joe McCarthy was outstanding. He was filling in for James Ryan - I know James Ryan was on the bench - but it’s a real sign of someone who’s going to be a top international for a long time that when he gets his first few opportunities, he doesn’t just fit in and do okay; he stands out. That set the top guys apart: when they get their chance on the biggest stage, they’ve got the mental capacity and physical capabilities to stand out. Joe did that.

Who would you like to have seen more of in this campaign?

I don’t see how he could have got more game time, because Bundee Aki was 100% the best player for Ireland, but I would have loved to have seen more from Stuart McCloskey. We’ve been in camp many, many years together - sometimes getting selected, sometimes not - and he’s someone who’s stuck in there and not given up on himself and playing for Ireland. I’d love to see him in an Ireland jersey more, but I understand the position he’s in is ultra competitive.

The same goes for Finlay Bealham. He probably deserved a start or two after his work over the last few years, and Tadhg Furlong would really benefit from that - not that he deserved to be dropped by any stretch of the imagination. But I always think if there’s someone who’s really pressing the guy who has been the clear starter for so many years - to give a guy like Finlay, in this case, the number three jersey against one of the bigger nations and see how he goes - that can only be a good thing.

Did we see any different tactical approaches by Ireland this year, or has it been a case of not needing to change a winning formula?

As the tournament progressed, there were a few little things, but Ireland were just looking for consistency. They had such a big block of time together before the World Cup, but then such a small amount of time together to prep for the Six Nations. Andy Farrell is very consistent in what he does, and the smartest thing, which proved to be the Championship-winning decision, was to not overplay his hand by adding a big stream of guys in and changing tactics. Instead, he sprinkled in Calvin Nash, Jack Crowley and Joe McCarthy amongst the guys he knew.

Do you see Ireland winning an unprecedented third Championship in a row in 2025?

It’s never been done before. There are a lot of what ifs. What if Antoine Dupont is fit for France? It changes the game, he’s that important. But then France have to come to Dublin, as do England. I do think Scotland will beat Ireland at some stage in the near future. They pushed us really, really close this time and stuck in the fight really impressively. They got their tactics right to be fair and were unbelievably physical, got two people in the tackle and stopped Ireland’s ruck from flowing as it has.

But Ireland weren’t at their best and still won, which is the sign of a top team. You can go by history, which would suggest it’s nearly impossible to do the triple, but that’s a massive motivator for the lads going in. I certainly wouldn’t bet against them, but a year out it’s hard to make any type of reasonable judgement on it. Andy Farrell being away with the Lions might complicate things a bit, though.

Do you foresee a shift in power with Italy improving so much and the likes of Wales having to find their feet?

I wouldn’t judge it off one Championship campaign. Things can unravel quite quickly in sports, and that’s happened for Wales, even if the signs were there longer ago. But Wales aren’t as bad a team as the results we’ve seen this year. For Italy, the challenge will be consistency. The results Gonzalo Quesada has produced straight off the bat are really impressive, so it will be an interesting battle over the next few years with Wales trying to regain their spot amongst the top three nations in the Championship, and then Italy trying to close that gap to ensure 2024 isn’t an outlier of a campaign.

Italy will probably be targeting three wins next year. You make your home fixtures a nightmare for other teams, and that’s a good place to start to building something (although Ireland are one of next year’s visitors, along with Wales and France). Succession-planning is a big thing for all the nations, which you can see Wales are struggling with. In contrast, Ireland are leading it from a northern hemisphere perspective, while England are starting to show some good young lads too.

That’s what transition is: when your older players are either on the cusp of retirement, or aren’t at the top level any more, you’ve got to fill the jersey with better players again. And it should be better players coming in because they’ve learnt from the players who came before them in that jersey. In Wales’ case, I’m not seeing the young talent in their country coming through right now at the same rate as other teams, so it could be a few tough years for them.

Which uncapped player do you think could feature for Ireland in the 2025 Championship?

If Munster second row Edwin Edogbo can get fit and stay fit, he’s a potential world-class player. I’ve seen him in action, training and playing, and he moves differently to any man that size I’ve seen. He’s like an out-and-out power athlete with good skills and a good brain for things. He’s got a good attitude when he gets out on the pitch, he can flick the switch. I’m hopeful he can overcome some early-career injury troubles and bank some good training. If he does that consistently for Munster, he’s going to be special.

If Andy Farrell was picking his Lions team tomorrow off the back of the 6N, who would he choose as captain?

Caelan Doris. He looks to be the next Irish captain after Peter O’Mahony, whenever Pete’s done. Your easiest tell is whenever Pete’s gone off, and James Ryan’s on the pitch, and Garry Ringrose is on the pitch, who’s the captain? It’s Caelan Doris. It’s highly likely that’s a clear indication of where Faz sees it going. I would also throw in someone like Jamie George, who’s been really impressive. I know him through some of the lads who toured with him for the Lions, going to a couple of their weddings, and he’s an absolute gentleman. You just really like the guy, and I think everything I’ve seen from outside looking in - whether it’s for Sarries or England - I’ve been really impressed by him. He’s a top player. That said, Dan Sheehan is probably the Lions number two at the moment, which may complicate it.

Caelan’s likely locked in to start, all things being equal. I don’t think you can rule out Owen Farrell either. Maybe his chances are slimmer than they would have been if his dad wasn’t the coach, but maybe Faz is able to neutralise that with ‘whoever’s the best man for the job is the best man for the job’. It might be putting too much pressure on Owen, though, if he’s been out of international rugby and then he’s made Lions captain - what with all the ridiculous media publicity that would go with that. Maybe it would be better for Owen just to be there as a leader and not the official captain. But I think they’re the top three players I see this far out captaining the Lions.

How do you think Ireland will fare on their summer tour to South Africa?

I’m properly excited for this tour. It’s weird because after you’ve retired, whenever rugby comes along it’s bittersweet watching it. I had it watching the World Cup then the Six Nations. As time progresses it certainly gets easier, but now I feel like I’m long enough out of it, given it was only four or five months ago, that I’m really really looking forward to Ireland v South Africa. A lovely rivalry has bubbled up in the last few years between the teams, and it’s a respectful rivalry. I don’t think there’s a dislike there at all. There’s the Rassie Erasmus element, having been at Munster; there’s Jacques Nienaber now at Leinster; there’s Ireland coming out on top in the World Cup and in previous encounters.

But who are the world champions? South Africa are. They’ll feel they’re being disrespected - and I know a lot of South Africans feel this way - by the fact that there’s still talk of Ireland being the best team in the world, even though South Africa who are the back-to-back world champions. They’ll take that personally, I guarantee it, so it’s going to be huge tour. It will be interesting to see if both teams go as close to full-strength as possible, or will there be tinkering with a long-term view? I expect both will want to win the Test series, even though it’s only two games, because it’s going to be massive. I have Lions 2009 levels of expectation for it, so if it even 50% lives up to that tour, we’re in for a treat.

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