The 2020 schedule has come to an end for Ireland after a lengthy autumn international window.
So just what can relatively new boss Andy Farrell take from the last few months as he plots a route towards the 2021 Six Nations and, ultimately, the 2023 World Cup?
Similar to the back-row, the back three picture has altered over the course of this window. Jacob Stockdale now seems Farrell’s pick to fill the full-back jersey. The Ulsterman showed he can still offer plenty in attack from the new position, scoring against both France and England. Hugo Keenan hasn’t been as eye-catching as Doris but has slotted in well at this level while Keith Earls is now Ireland’s second highest scorer ever. Jordan Larmour should be fit by the Six Nations though and James Lowe is another new option.
One position where there is little change is at out-half. Johnny Sexton, despite seemingly believing there are some in the media who’d rather see him retire, remains Ireland’s first-choice ten and has reiterated his desire to make it to the 2023 World Cup.
Ulster’s Billy Burns looked bright in each of his first three caps and it will be an interesting battle between him and Ross Byrne to be Sexton’s primary back-up come the Six Nations.
To Sexton and Peter O’Mahony, add Conor Murray as a prominent member of the old guard who underlined their importance to the side over the past two months. Jamison Gibson Park has shown he can add some tempo from the bench but Murray remains Ireland’s best scrum-half. Of course, that’s with Ireland’s form nine at provincial level outside the squad in John Cooney.
As Ireland head into a winter that will seem shorter than usual, many of the frontliners will have only a few games for their provinces before they’re back in camp for the Six Nations. While injuries are inevitable, Andy Farrell will have decisions to make between now and the trip to Wales. The toughest may be in the back-row where Caelan Doris has established him self as the favourite for a starting berth. Peter O’Mahony had a good autumn and CJ Stander had been in good form prior to lockdown. Dan Leavy’s return to fitness, though, could give the coach something to think about.
Ireland have used a range of centres over the course of these games but, if it wasn’t clear already, the autumn has likely underlined that the midfield must be Garry Ringrose plus one other. The more physical Bundee Aki, Robbie Henshaw, Chris Farrell and Stuart McCloskey are battling for one spot behind the Leinsterman.