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Six Nations 2024 in focus: A new era for hurt Ireland after leader, playmaker Johnny Sexton's retirement

Ireland open their 2024 Six Nations campaign by travelling to face France in Marseille on Friday, February 2 (8pm kick-off). Below we look at Andy Farrell's side in depth, discussing what has changed, what's hot, what's not, their championship record and squad news

Andy Farrell, Peter O'Mahony
Image: Andy Farrell has named Peter O'Mahony as Ireland captain for the 2024 Six Nations

Grand Slam winners in 2023, Ireland suffered familiar quarter-final heartbreak at the autumn's Rugby World Cup. How will Andy Farrell's charges respond?

Off the back of a 2023 in which Ireland dominated for so long while ranked world No 1 - clinching a Six Nations Grand Slam and 17-Test winning run which included beating eventual world champions South Africa in their World Cup pool - Farrell's side ultimately fell to New Zealand 28-24 at the Stade de France in the quarters.

The talismanic figure of Johnny Sexton has left the stage, and Ireland must look to rebuild from the hurt of the World Cup with a new playmaker in situ, and a new captain too in Munster back-row Peter O'Mahony.

In 2024, Ireland travel to France and England and will be up against it to secure a repeat Grand Slam. Here's everything you need to know ahead of Ireland's opening fixture with France in Marseille...

Image: Ireland enter the 2024 Six Nations as reigning Grand Slam champions


  • France - Stade Velodrome - Friday, February 2 - 8pm (GMT)
  • Italy - Aviva Stadium - Sunday, February 11 - 3pm (GMT)
  • Wales - Aviva Stadium - Saturday, February 24 - 2.15pm (GMT)
  • England - Twickenham - Saturday, March 9 - 4.45pm (GMT)
  • Scotland - Aviva Stadium - Saturday, March 16 - 4.45pm (GMT)

What's changed?

Ireland have a new captain in 34-year-old flanker O'Mahony, who takes over from Sexton after the fly-half's retirement following the World Cup.

O'Mahony was in the running with the likes of James Ryan, Garry Ringrose and Iain Henderson for the role, but has been trusted by Farrell as the next leader of the side, having previously captained Ireland on 10 occasions from the start of Tests, and more during his 101 international caps.

Ireland captain Peter O'Mahony
Image: Munster back-row O'Mahony takes over the captaincy having led Ireland in 10 Tests from the start before

O'Mahony has proven an outstanding servant to Ireland and Munster, and a captain players will follow, having skippered Munster for some 10 years until the start of this current campaign, and captained the British and Irish Lions in their first Test vs New Zealand on the 2017 tour.

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He will be a man under pressure to perform, however, with a bizarre contract situation unfolding in the background - O'Mahony is on an IRFU central contract for the current campaign, but has not yet signed a contract to cover next season. There are rumours O'Mahony has not been offered a full centralised deal, despite being named captain.

In addition to Sexton's departure from Test rugby at the age of 38, another Irish stalwart in Keith Earls also retired after the World Cup at the age of 36. Both men were players Farrell felt were essential to his squads and will leave big holes.

Sexton, Earls
Image: Ireland centurions Johnny Sexton and Keith Earls have both retired since the World Cup

Ireland are also no longer the No 1 ranked side in the world. The men in green sat atop the rankings from July 2022 to October 2023, but are now second behind South Africa after their painful World Cup exit.

While Farrell's squad selection showed very little changes, three uncapped players were called up in a training capacity - Munster's Oli Jager (tighthead) and Thomas Ahern (lock/back-row), and Leinster's Sam Prendergast (fly-half), while the major change will see a new starting No 10.

Munster's Jack Crowley grew into a position of Farrell's out-and-out back-up behind Sexton at the World Cup, and the 24-year-old is hot favourite to start against France in Round 1, particularly with his main competition at Leinster all suffering injuries: Ross Byrne (arm, not in squad), Harry Byrne (rolled ankle), Ciaran Frawley (back).

Jack Crowley
Image: Jack Crowley appears in line to become Ireland's next No 10, can he guide them to victory away to France first up?

Crowley is extremely talented, but has mixed the very good with poor moments for Munster so far this season. There is a lot resting on his shoulders in terms of Ireland's ability to compete for the title in 2024.

What's hot?

For all that Ireland's World Cup elimination by the All Blacks was despairing for them, it is also true a one-off knockout game which, in truth, could have gone either way, does not mark Ireland out as a weaker side overnight. Or it shouldn't anyway.

The Irish romped to a Six Nations Grand Slam last year in as dominant a fashion as the championship has ever seen, defeating each side by a margin of at least 13 points (13-point win vs France, 15-point win vs Scotland, 13-point win vs England, 24-point win vs Wales, 14-point win vs Italy), and a large portion of that side remain.

Ireland's players and supporters celebrate after winning the Rugby World Cup France 2023 Pool B match at Stadium Stade de France in Saint-Denis, Seine-Saint-Denis on Sept. 23, 2023. ( The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP Images )
Image: Despite World Cup heartache, Ireland still possess a very strong squad

Andrew Porter, Dan Sheehan, Tadhg Furlong, Tadhg Beirne, Ryan, Henderson, Josh van der Flier, O'Mahony, Caelan Doris, Jamison Gibson-Park, Bundee Aki, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, Hugo Keenan and James Lowe are all fit and raring to go.

Ireland proved last year the depth to their squad is superb too, with the likes of Finlay Bealham, Jack Conan, Conor Murray and Stuart McCloskey all coming into big matches and thriving.

Munster wing Calvin Nash, who made his Test debut in August, has enjoyed a stellar season so far, and if given the chance, looks a player primed to make a mark for Ireland.

The highly successful coaching ticket of Farrell, Paul O'Connell, Mike Catt and Simon Easterby remains in position too, while Ireland haven't lost a Test in Dublin since February 2021. They haven't lost a Test in Dublin with a crowd for four years dating back to February 2019.

Ireland's squad remains very strong. Might there be a World Cup hangover? Will the absence of Sexton prove hugely detrimental? We'll have to wait, watch and see.

18 March 2023; Head coach Andy Farrell
Image: Farrell has led Ireland to a Six Nations Triple Crown in 2022, and a Grand Slam in 2023
andy Farrell, Paul O'Connell
Image: Can Paul O'Connell, Farrell and the rest of the coaching team lead Ireland to the title in a year facing France and England away?

What's not?

The retirement of Sexton sees Ireland lose their commander-in-chief on the pitch, and one of the best playmakers in the sport of all time.

Ireland's attacking sequences and plays under Farrell were some of the slickest and most effective of any side in the world, and almost all of it was orchestrated by Sexton.

Sexton, Andy Farrell
Image: Sexton, Ireland's key attacking force for so long, has left the rugby stage

The other major negative for Ireland is the injury to brilliant wing Mack Hansen. The Connacht back suffered a shoulder injury in December which will see him miss the entire championship.

The 25-year-old started all five games of the Grand Slam campaign last year, scoring three tries, while also featuring in four of Ireland's five Tests en route to a Triple Crown in 2022. A lethal finished and a playmaker too in his own right, Hansen's loss is massive.

Ireland winger Mack Hansen
Image: Ireland wing Mack Hansen will miss the entire championship due to a shoulder injury

Leinster's versatile back Jimmy O'Brien, who came on for an injured Hansen during the World Cup quarter-final vs New Zealand to have a big impact, has also been ruled out of the whole Six Nations due to a neck injury, while impactful Munster loosehead Dave Kilcoyne (shoulder) is another who will be missing.

Lastly, as mentioned above, O'Mahony's contract situation. It is a terrible look for the IRFU, Farrell and outgoing Performance Director David Nucifora that the new captain of the national side is yet to have his contract renewed.

Such a position meant O'Mahony was forced to answer questions on his contract at the Six Nations launch on one of the proudest moments of his and his family's life. There are 12 players on central contracts beyond the current campaign, surely the Ireland captain should be too? Particularly as O'Mahony has shown no signs of slowing down or losing his place in the side to date.

Championship record

Six Nations since 2000: Five-time winners (2009, 2014, 2015, 2018, 2023)

Overall: 15 titles outright (1894, 1896, 1899, 1935, 1948, 1949, 1951, 1974, 1982, 1985, 2009, 2014, 2015, 2018, 2023)

Ireland's 34-player squad for the 2024 Six Nations:

Forwards (19): Ryan Baird, Finlay Bealham, Tadhg Beirne, Jack Conan, Caelan Doris, Tadhg Furlong, Cian Healy, Iain Henderson, Ronan Kelleher, Jeremy Loughman, Joe McCarthy, Peter O'Mahony (c), Tom O'Toole, Andrew Porter, James Ryan, Dan Sheehan, Tom Stewart, Nick Timoney, Josh van der Flier.

Backs (15): Bundee Aki, Harry Byrne, Craig Casey, Jack Crowley, Ciaran Frawley, Jamison Gibson-Park, Robbie Henshaw, Hugo Keenan, Jordan Larmour, James Lowe, Stuart McCloskey, Conor Murray, Calvin Nash, Garry Ringrose, Jacob Stockdale.

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