RORY Best believes Andy Farrell should stick with the players who he knows will make his World Cup squad.
But the ex-Ireland skipper says that while it is important to maintain the momentum that put them back on top in the world rankings, the team's dependency on Johnny Sexton and Tadhg Furlong should be addressed during this Six Nations.
Whatever about the championship, Best feels that Farrell, who names his Six Nations squad this morning, must not experiment during the World Cup build-up.
Farrell used 45 players last year in the Test environment and 84 players were in camp in total, taking into account the Emerging Ireland tour and Ireland A's defeat to the All Blacks XV.
But Best reckons the Ireland boss already knows the 33 men he will be bringing to France 2023.
"Looking back to England at the last World Cup, Eddie Jones naming his team so early meant he had to play that group of players together," said Best.
"It's almost like we use the first summer series game as a, 'ah sure, we'll give those guys a go anyway even though they'll never make the plane'.
"Can Andy actually go, 'Well I now actually do know what my 36 players and unless anyone shows me something markedly different, they're the ones that are going to play - we'll actually have guys going there with three games of varying minutes under their belts and we're going to be match ready for the World Cup'.
"There are a couple of games that should really win leading into that so you have to factor that in.
"But he'll be fairly confident that he knows, injury aside, what the bulk of his squad will be."
The ex-Ulster and Ireland hooker predicts that Farrell's confident squad will fancy a crack at the Grand Slam this year, having won the Triple Crown in 2022.
He references the importance of winning in Paris in the first game of the 2018 championship and how it opened the door to Ireland's last Grand Slam - and how the same applies on February 4 in Cardiff.
Sexton and Furlong could play their first game back after cheekbone surgery (Sexton) and ankle and calf issues (Furlong) against Wales, and Best is concerned because the same dependency on Sexton that existed for the 2019 World Cup remains.
"I definitely don't think that we're less dependent (on Sexton), we were probably less dependent maybe six or seven years ago than we are now," he said.
"There's a combination of things. Joey's (Carbery) injuries haven't helped since the last World Cup while Johnny has played some of the best rugby he's ever played.
"Then we've got a lot of young guys who aren't getting a lot of game time, starting 10 in big games.
"There's plenty of URC experience there and in the URC there's unfortunately a gulf between the top and bottom teams, it's too big.
"I saw Ulster played Zebre and put 40 points on them, and Ulster did not play well leading into that Leinster game so it says a lot about the league, unfortunately.
"So I don't know if we're necessarily any closer to finding cover for Johnny, if anything Johnny has widened the gap in the way he's playing and in the way he's leading, which is always a worry.
"You look at the number of real quality options they have right across the board, yet you're still worried a little bit about tighthead prop and out-half - but that's no different to four years ago."
And Best added: "This Six Nations will be interesting to see is it about a Grand Slam or a championship and really ramming home that momentum that we've built over the last couple of years.
"Or is there a scenario where we go, 'we've a couple of holes around Furlong, around Sexton and we're going to put them on the bench to give us a safety blanket, but we've got to try to push through the next people in there'.
"That's a question that will be answered over the next couple of months - and it will be a question that Andy will know the answer to himself.
"But ultimately that's a decision and a strategy that has to be made."
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