Three to Watch: Ireland

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Winning a Grand Slam is one thing, defending it is quite another – that’s the challenge facing Ireland ahead of the 2019 Guinness Six Nations.

Winning a Grand Slam is one thing, defending it is quite another – that’s the challenge facing Ireland ahead of the 2019 Guinness Six Nations.

Joe Schmidt’s side have the makings of a dominant force in Rugby’s Greatest Championship but they will need to match and even exceed standards set in their 2018 triumph to go back-to-back.

An outstanding autumn which featured a milestone victory over New Zealand and clean-sweep wins over Argentina, Italy and USA suggested they are more than capable.

Here’s a look at three individuals poised to make a big impact as Ireland go in search of a fifth Guinness Six Nations success.

Ross Byrne

Ireland are fully loaded at fly-half, with World Rugby Player of the Year Johnny Sexton and the precocious Joey Carbery set to take the reins at ten.

But in Leinster’s metronomic man Byrne, they have a consistent alternative who may well see his fair share of minutes in the 2019 Guinness Six Nations.

The 23-year-old’s reliability meant Carbery had to look elsewhere for Guinness PRO14 game time as he made the move up the road to Munster in the summer.

And over the autumn Byrne proved himself an able Test replacement, featuring at fly-half in the win over Italy in Chicago and popping up on the wing against the USA.

Byrne, Sexton’s understudy in a growing domestic dynasty at Leinster, could well end the spring as Schmidt’s second choice in the playmaker role too.

Will Addison

Addison’s unstoppable rise since his summer switch to Ulster shows no signs of abating and its latest stage is the 2019 Guinness Six Nations.

The former England Under-20 international, whose mother hails from County Fermanagh, worshipped those wearing green as a youngster and looks set to wear the jersey himself for years to come.

Addison has struck up a scintillating centre partnership with fellow Test player Stuart McCloskey and the Kingspan faithful have been won over by his punchy midfield running.

His international debut against USA underscored his promise and Schmidt will have a close eye on his form with lingering doubts over the fitness of Robbie Henshaw for the start of the Guinness Six Nations.

Tadhg Beirne

Within five minutes of his Ireland debut in Chicago against Italy, Beirne became a Test tryscorer – confirming he’s destined for big things on the global stage.

Despite being one of the most consistent second-rows around in spells at Scarlets and now Munster, the Eadestown product is under no illusion of his place in the pecking order with Ireland.

“The boys who are there have proven themselves time and time again, so it’s hard to push yourself into that starting team for a huge Test,” said the 26-year-old.

James Ryan and Devin Toner are two of the finest engine-room operators in the game and they kept Beirne out of the matchday 23 for November games against New Zealand and Argentina.

But with Iain Henderson’s participation imperilled by injury, Beirne is poised to get a run in the boiler during the 2019 Guinness Six Nations and there’s every suggestion he’ll be a big hit when he does.