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Irish Mirror
Irish Mirror
Michael Scully

No harm if Ireland lose before France 2023, says Rob Kearney - as he backs them for the Grand Slam

Rob Kearney reckons a loss or two wouldn't be a bad thing in this World Cup year - but he still predicts Ireland will win a first Grand Slam since 2018.

Kearney was on the last Ireland team to achieve that feat and feels that Andy Farrell's world number one side has the chops to see off France and England and complete a championship clean sweep.

But the ex-full back is also aware of what a winning streak can do in terms of piling pressure on ahead of France 2023.

READ MORE : Andy Farrell's Six Nations squad announcement: the winners and losers

"I think it's going to be a Grand Slam year, I really do," said Kearney.

But he pointed to how sometimes the Leinster players would come back into camp before a big European game on the back of a defeat, and how that could be used as a beneficial thing.

"A lot of times we would have lost that link game before the European quarter-final and it was great to bring everyone back to basics, to not to get too far ahead of yourselves," Kearney reflected.

"Do we want Ireland to go through the next year winning all of their games? I don't think so, because every single week then becomes a conversation about this unbeaten streak we've gone on.

"But just because I want them to lose doesn't mean I think they will. I think this could be a huge, huge year for Irish rugby."

France could await Ireland in the World Cup quarter-finals and so the sides' meeting at the Aviva Stadium on February 11 could be important in terms of a psychological marker.

"Yeah it's a little bit more difficult if you can't beat them at home in front of your own fans," conceded Kearney.

"I don't think a loss will be a crisis because the trajectory of the last year has been so strong.

"This is a team that is still building, they've not hit their ceiling yet and there's a huge amount more growth in them and you've got a lot of key personnel there who have learned from the last few World Cups.

"This French team, they're going to be favourites for the World Cup. Are we going to meet them at some stage, possibly - I never thought we'd be in a position where we're hoping for New Zealand in a quarter-final but that's the situation we now find ourselves in!

"(Warren) Gatland coming back in for that first game in Wales, I don't think they have a squad that can compete in the Six Nations but then the Gatland effect has been so strong over the years.

"This French team is the outstanding team in world rugby for me at the moment and if we can beat them here it will be a proper marker laid down by this team for the World Cup."

Meanwhile, Kearney has backed Ross Byrne to show why he has got a surprise Six Nations selection nod ahead of Joey Carbery.

Byrne's first Ireland involvement in 18 months came as a late call-up against Australia in the final Autumn series game last November, when he scored the winning penalty.

Along with Carbery's Munster colleague Jack Crowley, Byrne is named as out-half back up to Johnny Sexton and former Ireland star Kearney believes Andy Farrell has made the right call in picking the 27-year-old Leinster no 10.

"Ross, you have to credit him enormously, he drives that Leinster team a huge amount throughout the year," said Kearney.

"The majority of the team is going to be Leinster players and there's a really good relationship that he has with those players, he moves them around the field really well.

"He might not take on the line as much as we would like to see but there's enough evidence that he will do a really, really good job and his goalkicking has been exemplary."

Robbie Henshaw was also missing from the 37-strong list, but the Leinster centre will return when his wrist is right.

Along with Carbery, Ulster trio Nick Timoney, Kieran Treadwell and Mike Lowry are stand-out omissions, with Timoney and Treadwell starters in the Autumn series against Fiji.

Leinster's rising star Jamie Osborne is the only uncapped player included and it was an expected move by Ireland boss Farrell, given the 21-year-old's form.

There is also a merited return for Munster's in-form back row Gavin Coombes, who has scored six tries in eight games for the province since missing out on the November Tests.

James Lowe, the Leinster winger, is also included but it is not yet known when he will return from New Zealand, having flown home for family reasons.

Despite being left out at provincial level in recent weeks, veterans Conor Murray and Keith Earls (both Munster) and Connacht's Bundee Aki have made the cut.


Backs (17): Aki, Byrne, Casey, Crowley, Earls, Hansen, Keenan, Larmour, Lowe, McCloskey, Murray, O'Brien, Osborne, Ringrose, Sexton, Stockdale.

Forwards (20): Baird, Bealham, Beirne, Conan, Coombes, Doris, Furlong, Healy, Henderson, Herring, Kelleher, Kilcoyne, McCarthy, O'Mahony, O'Toole, Porter, Prendergast, Ryan, Sheehan, van der Flier.

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