Wednesday, March 08, 2023

By Ed Elliot, PA, Dublin

Josh van der Flier believes it would be “naive” for Ireland to make bold Grand Slam proclamations ahead of a tricky Guinness Six Nations trip to Scotland.

Andy Farrell’s men are the only team still in contention for a clean sweep going into the final two rounds of the championship following bonus-point wins over Wales, France and Italy.

Scotland’s own Grand Slam hopes were extinguished by the French last time out but victory over the world’s top-ranked side on Sunday at Murrayfield would launch Gregor Townsend’s hosts back into title contention and clinch their first Triple Crown since the 1990 Five Nations.

“It’s probably something we would have mentioned at the start of the tournament, so I wouldn’t say it was a banned word, no,” Van der Flier said of the Grand Slam.

“But with the threat we have this weekend with a Scotland side that are playing so well, it would be probably naive of us to start talking about a Grand Slam or anything like that.

“I think it’s going to be a massive challenge against a really, really good side.

“It is obviously the goal for every team going in, you want to win all of your games, but it will be a such a big challenge this week that you can’t look far past that.”

Pacesetters Ireland, who won the Triple Crown in 2022, look set to be boosted by the return of a host of star names in Edinburgh after Farrell’s full squad trained on Wednesday.

Captain Johnny Sexton and centre Garry Ringrose watched the round-three victory in Rome from the stands due to respective groin and calf issues, while prop Tadhg Furlong, scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park and centre Robbie Henshaw are yet to feature in this year’s competition due to injuries.

Reigning world player of the year Van der Flier feels it will take a collective effort for Ireland to nullify the threat of Scotland playmaker Finn Russell and remain as tournament frontrunners.

“Finn Russell is a brilliant player, he’s been on great form,” said the 29-year-old Leinster flanker.

Scotland fly-half Finn Russell, left, has the potential to harm Ireland's title challenge
Scotland fly-half Finn Russell, left, has the potential to harm Ireland’s title challenge (Adam Davy/PA)

“I suppose the trick with him is you don’t try and think you’ll solve it on your own.

“If someone jumps out of the line or tries to go at him on his own, he’s got good footwork, he’s good at picking the right pass.

“It’s a team thing and anyone who’s in and around him has to focus on staying connected with each other and not give him those opportunities.

“He’s one of those players that you give a bit of space to and he’s good enough to capitalise, as we’ve seen the last few weeks.”

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