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Andy Farrell issues ominous warning to Ireland's World Cup rivals

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Ireland boss Andy Farrell has issued an ominous warning to his team’s World Cup rivals just six months out from the start of the finals in France. The Irish lived up to their current World Rugby number-one ranking by clinching only the fourth-ever Grand Slam in their history when they eventually defeated 14-man England 29-16 in Dublin on Saturday night.

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Next on their list is shattering their world finals glass ceiling. Never before have Ireland gone beyond the quarter-final stage, but they will now head to France 2023 as one of the favourites to lift the trophy despite being paired in a pool alongside defending champions South Africa and the prospect of a quarter-final in Paris versus the competition-hosting French or the All Blacks.

The pattern at previous finals has been for the Irish not to live up to the hype about them and they have exited the last three tournaments by getting soundly beaten at the quarter-final stage by Wales, Argentina and New Zealand respectively. Prior to that – at France 2007 – they damningly failed to even qualify from their pool.

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However, the Grand Slam-winning Farrell now has every confidence that his team can succeed like no other Irish team and he warned rival nations that his players are only going to better with the long lead-in to the finals, where their four-game pool campaign kicks off versus Romania on September 9.

“I have just been saying to Johnny (Sexton) there is bigger fish to fry than this (Six Nations), so we are onto the World Cup” he quipped. “No, we are going to enjoy the next 48 hours 100 per cent, but we are a good side that has nowhere reached its potential.

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“I have been saying over the last couple of weeks that is what we are striving to do. We will get a few people back to compete and to train hard. You know, everyone is going to get better in the summer when we get to spend a lot more time together, so we expect our side when we get to the first game of the World Cup to be a lot better than what we are now and that is the reality.”

Farrell refused to personally bask in the glory of coaching Ireland to a rare Grand Slam, instead deflecting the praise to his players and he paid a special tribute to skipper Sexton after he played his final Six Nations match in a year that will end with his retirement as a player following the World Cup.

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“No, not really,” he said when asked if becoming a Grand Slam-winning head coach vindicated him moving his family to Ireland in 2016 after he lost his job as an England assistant following their pool stage elimination at the 2015 World Cup. “I am just so glad for the group because it is fitting.

“Look at the year we have had, to be able to finish off like that is so, so deserving in so many ways. Garry Ringrose got his 50th last week and he couldn’t receive his cap (as he was hospitalised), so we have just given it to him now in the changing room and Josh van der Flier, it’s his 50th as well. Wow, what a season he has had – what a fitting moment it is to get his 50th cap on such an occasion like that.

“And for captain Johnny to finish his Six Nations campaign, he has been saying all week this is what dreams are made of. It doesn’t come around that often and it’s unbelievably fitting that, in my opinion, the best player ever to play for Ireland is able to sign off on a Grand Slam on St Patrick’s Day (sic) in front of his own crowd. There are a lot of stars that have aligned over the course of the last eight weeks and accumulated into this evening.”

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