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Ireland legend makes a bold call ahead of Six Nations campaign

IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Ireland great Mike Gibson believes the current side head into the Six Nations with justified confidence of success following a rise to number one in the world rankings that is “beyond dreams”.

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Andrew Farrell’s men launch their Six Nations campaign away to Wales on Saturday.

The side head into the fixture following an outstanding 2022 in which they climbed to the top of the global standings on the back of two wins over the All Blacks in New Zealand, a Triple Crown and Autumn triumphs against both world champions South Africa and Australia.

Ireland, together with reigning champions France, have opened up a gap on their European rivals.

Gibson believes Ireland’s successes against southern hemisphere opponents in particular will help the side cope with the burden of favouritism – something with which they have struggled in previous years.

“It has been a wonderful time for us,” Gibson said Wednesday.

“We have been successful against the All Blacks, successful also against South Africa and Australia, and these things make their mark on players.

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“They can go out and say, ‘I’ve beaten New Zealand so that I can deal with any side’.

“The burden of being a favourite creates its own difficulties but the expectation of the Ireland team is one of ‘they can beat anybody’.”

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Gibson, who won 69 Ireland caps and also played in 12 Tests for the British and Irish Lions, was renowned for doing the right thing in the right place during the course of an outstanding 16-year international career spent mainly as a centre.

But while many Ireland teams have been plagued by inconsistency, Gibson said that under coach Farrell the present-day side was making fewer errors with the ball in hand.

 

‘Basics done well’

“Everybody is making good sound decisions when they are in possession, which is key,” he explained.

“From an international point of view, Farrell has been instrumental in allowing the side to play and gain confidence, and the forwards can dominate teams. We are number one in the world, which is something beyond dreams.”

A gifted player in both attack and defence, and judged by many observers in New Zealand to be the leading player in a supremely talented back division during the 1971 Lions series win over the All Blacks, the 80-year-old Gibson was clear at what lay behind Ireland’s recent success.

“The basics are done well,” he said.

“They are done at speed – increasing pressure on the opposition, increasing the intensity of your own play and taking advantage of every chance to score points.”

As well as his ability, Gibson was admired for his resilience during a Test career that ran from 1964-79, when rugby union was still an amateur game, with far fewer international matches than today.

By contrast, Jonathan Sexton has already won over a hundred Ireland caps, although the 37-year-old flyhalf could retire after this year’s World Cup in France.

“He is a phenomenon,” said Gibson of Ireland captain Sexton.

“He is a vital part of Ireland’s success because of his decision-making and his influence, which is something he has demonstrated for years.”

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