Andy Farrell’s reign as Ireland boss has had its ups and downs so far, and this Autumn represents a great opportunity for more progress for his Ireland side.
Farrell, who took over from Joe Schmidt after the 2019 Rugby World Cup, will be hoping for more stability this Autumn, with three matches at the Aviva Stadium after the match against the USA in Las Vegas was cancelled.
What you need to know
Since their 2019 World Cup quarter-final exit, Ireland have finished third in back-to-back Guinness Six Nations campaigns while last Autumn they were only defeated by eventual winners England at Twickenham to finish third in the inaugural Autumn Nations Cup.
After a successful summer series blooding in new talent in the wins against Japan and USA, this Autumn represents one of great opportunity.
At club level, things could not be going much better at the moment for the Irish provinces, with Munster, Ulster and Leinster currently making up the top three of the new United Rugby Championship, while Connacht romped to a comfortable 34-7 victory over the Vodacom Bulls at the Sportsground in Round 2.
Farrell will have been very encouraged by the form of the domestic sides, while the return of those who spent the summer on Lions duty will give selection headaches.
Captain and Coach
As mentioned, Andy Farrell has been head coach of Ireland for two years after previously acting as defence coach for England and then Ireland.
He also previously acted as defence coach for the British and Irish Lions on the 2013 and 2017 tours, so he will be hoping to further improve the joint-best defence from the 2021 Guinness Six Nations.
Jonathan Sexton remains the Ireland captain and will be hoping to lead them back to the very top after previously winning the Grand Slam in 2018.
Ones to watch
After starting all three Tests for the Lions against South Africa and following CJ Stander’s retirement, Conan’s importance to the Irish back row cannot be understated.
His ball carrying is something which caught the eye during the 2021 Guinness Six Nations, with a brilliant performance against England at the Aviva Stadium.
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Without Stander, it is likely that Conan will move across to the No.8 role for good, and these Autumn fixtures represent an excellent opportunity for him to make the position his own.
Another who started all three Tests for the Lions this summer, Furlong has become the first name on the Irish teamsheet.
He is now one of the best scrummagers in world rugby and an excellent ball carrier, something which undoubtedly makes him a dream at tighthead.
Furlong is someone who strikes fear into opposition scrums and has become a one to watch in any game he plays in.
At 25 now, Keenan is becoming a heavily dependable option for Farrell either on the wing or at fullback.
His Guinness Six Nations last year saw him emerge as one of the most exciting young players in Europe, and he has continued to show enough promise, earning 13 caps, and starting all five matches in the 2021 Championship campaign, scoring against Italy.
Electric pace and very solid under the high ball, Keenan is someone who Farrell must be very excited to have heading into this Autumn.
With the game against USA now cancelled, Ireland’s three fixtures all take place at home at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.
They begin with a blockbuster opener on Saturday November 6 against Japan, a match which saw a thrilling 39-31 Ireland win in July.
Japan famously defeated Ireland at the 2019 Rugby World Cup, and they are a side who never know when they’re beaten, representing a tough curtain-raiser to the Autumn Nations Series for Ireland.
The week after the visit of the Brave Blossoms is a visit of the All Blacks.
New Zealand, fresh from winning the Rugby Championship, will face Ireland in Dublin for the first time since their first defeat on Irish soil, in November 2018.
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The number one side in the world will be a huge challenge for Ireland, but one which they will believe they can win.
Lastly comes the visit of Argentina, who have come out of the Rugby Championship winless amid controversy surrounding the breach of their Covid bubble in Sydney.
Los Pumas are a side who relish playing European opposition, and of course knocked Ireland out of the Rugby World Cup in 2015 with a thumping 43-20 win in Cardiff.
Ireland will be eyeing up a third consecutive Autumn victory over Los Pumas, after beating them in Dublin in 2017 and 2018.
Ireland v Japan, November 6, kick-off: 1PM (local time)
Ireland v New Zealand, November 13, kick-off: 3:15PM (local time)
Ireland v Argentina, November 21, kick-off: 2:15PM (local time)