The men's national coaching team assembled a group of 50 players at the IRFU High Performance Centre for four hours on Sunday to map out the challenging and exciting year of international rugby that lies ahead.
Ireland head coach Andy Farrell stressed the importance of reconnecting the players who had participated in the Vodafone Summer Series, those that were on the Lions tour, and those who were given the summer off.
“Well, we are a week out from the start of the new URC so it’s fantastic to make sure you can get all the lads together that were there for the first time in the summer and reconnect those guys with the Lions boys who went on tour and had the experience of the Six Nations in an Ireland shirt,” he said.
“Getting all those boys together back in one room, 50 of them, there could have been 60 or 70 of them and have a look around the room and look at your competition of what’s ahead for the next five or six weeks to make sure they perform well enough to get back for the autumn.”
Looking ahead to the Autumn Nations Series fixtures against Japan, New Zealand and Argentina at the Aviva Stadium, Farrell is excited by the challenges ahead.
“The challenges ahead are there for all to see this season and it’s exactly where we want to be. The bigger the challenge the more we stand up as Irishmen,” he acknowledged.
“We’re delighted that we’ve got a three-game series in the autumn against really good quality opposition. Obviously Japan we all know about them because we played against them in the summer.
“They’re in camp as we speak now so their preparation is going to be great, they’ve got a game against Australia just before they get to these shores so they will be well prepared.
“They are an exciting team, a tough team to beat. Our victory in the summer against them was a great one for our boys.
“The All Blacks have just taken over number 1 in the world as we speak again and they seem to be on a roll. They seem to have been together forever, don’t they – the southern Hemisphere teams.
“I suppose they are ending their season coming over the same as Argentina and have probably been together for five months, so we expect them to be at their brimming best.”
There is a strong prospect that the Aviva Stadium will be welcoming back supporters in significant numbers in November. The last time the team played in front of a packed Aviva Stadium was in the Guinness Six Nations against Wales on February 8, 2020.
Speaking about the prospect of having Irish rugby supporters back in attendance for the Autumn Nations Series, Farrell said: “The fixture list itself brings a hell of a lot of excitement but to get the crowd back into the Aviva, we know it will definitely be 75% hopefully.
“We’re very hopeful that by then after the announcement on the 22nd (of October) that hopefully we can get full crowds back at the Aviva.
“This is going to be amazing, we do what we do for the Irish people and the support they give back to us makes us want to do it even more so.”
Ireland have not toured New Zealand since 2012 and have never won a Test match on New Zealand soil.
“Just showing the boys the fixture list and we finish off an unbelievably exciting season with a three-Test tour to New Zealand. No Irish side have been down there and won a Test series before,” he added.
“No Irish side have been down there and won a Test match before, so we can see the challenges ahead and as I said before it’s exactly where we want to be.”
Ireland’s Autumn Nations Series games at the Aviva Stadium will be televised on RTE (ROI) and Channel 4 (NI). The IRFU will finalise stadium capacity for these games following direction from government in October.
Autumn Nations Series Fixtures:
IRELAND v Japan
Aviva Stadium, Saturday, November 6
IRELAND v New Zealand
Aviva Stadium, Saturday, November 13
IRELAND v Argentina
Aviva Stadium, Sunday, November 21