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Ireland lock on being motivated by Maro Itoje and idolising a legend

By PA
Dublin , Ireland - 16 March 2024; Ireland captain Peter O'Mahony, right, and Ryan Baird after the Guinness Six Nations Rugby Championship match between Ireland and Scotland at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. (Photo By Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Ryan Baird was determined to savour Ireland’s latest Guinness Six Nations title success following inspiration from a framed Maro Itoje jersey and the motivational words of his mother.

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The Leinster forward struggled to fully embrace last year’s triumph due to preoccupation with analysing his own performance in the immediate aftermath of the Grand Slam clincher against England.

Baird took home the match shirt of rival star Itoje following that memorable 29-16 St Patrick’s weekend win in Dublin.

In the wake of last weekend’s last-gasp loss at Twickenham, the souvenir provided a timely reminder of the magnitude of championship glory ahead of Saturday’s decisive 17-13 victory over Scotland.

“I struggled to enjoy it last year because I was so frustrated about some of the mistakes I made and it kind of ruined it for me,” said Baird.

“Only when we lost last week and I was back home, my mum for Christmas had framed the Maro Itoje jersey for me and she was like, ‘just remember how special that was and how hard they are to win’.

“So when the final whistle went, I’d made a few mistakes in the game but I put that aside.

“I remember being on the ground as the ball was being kicked out and I thought ‘you know what, appreciate the last eight weeks of hard work you have put in, appreciate the time you spent with your team-mates’.

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“It didn’t give me a crazy high, it just gave me a satisfaction. I worked hard, we all worked hard.”

Match Summary

1
Penalty Goals
2
2
Tries
1
2
Conversions
1
0
Drop Goals
0
152
Carries
93
4
Line Breaks
4
21
Turnovers Lost
14
3
Turnovers Won
7

Baird, who can operate at lock or flanker, made his Test debut during the 2021 Six Nations.

The 24-year-old has patiently awaited opportunities but could benefit from the potential retirement of captain Peter O’Mahony.

Baird idolises O’Mahony and feels “privileged to be led” by the veteran Munster flanker, who is contemplating his international future after leading his country to silverware.

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“He epitomises what it is to be an Irish rugby player,” said Baird, who featured in each of Ireland’s tournament fixtures but only started the round-two win over Italy.

“I said to him before the game how much I look up to him and I said it to him after. Yeah, I idolise him.

“I’m so fortunate to play with him as well, the way he carries himself. He’s such good fun off the pitch and such a hard worker on the pitch.

“You can see it is everything to him and I’m privileged to be led by him.”

Six Nations Six Nations
Six Nations Greatest XV
Brian O'Driscoll
Brian O'Driscoll

Ireland face a two-match summer tour of South Africa before autumn clashes with New Zealand, Argentina, Fiji and Australia.

Baird hopes to add to his 20 caps – 14 of which have come as a replacement – against the top southern hemisphere sides.

“I just want to fulfil my potential and I feel very fortunate to be in this group,” he said.

“I’m not representing me, I’m representing family and friends and the big thing we always say is we want to inspire the nation.

“As I get older I’m realising more that I am less selfish in my views as to why I am doing this.

“I do it first because I love playing rugby and I love representing this country and what this gives others when we do this and when we win.

“I’m starting to appreciate that more and I guess it’s why I’m more fond of this one (Six Nations title).”

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