As we continue the build up to the 2011 RBS Six Nations, Conor Buckley assess the Irish team and the outlook for their fans this year.
Six Nations Pedigree:
In the last 10 years, Ireland have shown incredible consistency in the 6 Nations tournament. They have finished runners-up a total of 6 times, and finally won their first Grand Slam in 2009 after a 61-year wait.. Add to this their 4 Triple Crown wins in the last 10 years and you have a very impressive record.
Best Six Nations moment:
Shane Horgan’s try v England in Twickenham 2006 to secure the Triple Crown. Ireland are 3 points down with 2 minutes to play…
Biggest Six Nations win: 60 – 13 (v Italy 2000)
Biggest Six Nations defeat: 6 – 46 (v England 1997)
Current Form: L-L-L-W-L-W
Ireland finished 2nd last year to the 2010 Grand Slam winners, France, although Ireland were convincingly defeated by the French in Paris last year, and they ended their 6 Nations series with a shock defeat at the hands of the Scots. Ireland’s summer tour to the Southern Hemisphere was even more disappointing, losing heavily to New Zealand in New Plymouth in the game that saw Jamie Heaslip pick up a straight red for his attack on Richie McCaw.
The tour continued with another poor performance against Australia, and in the Autumn Series, Ireland were defeated by a weak South African side and again by New Zealand – the only wins of the series coming against Samoa and Argentina. Going into the 6 Nations, Ireland’s form over the last year has been patchy to downright poor.
Key player: Paul O’Connell
After a lengthy layoff from rugby since the Scotland game in last years 6 Nations, the Munster lock has returned to rugby recently and his hunger and drive is stronger than ever. His leadership and motivation on the field will inspire the players around him.
One to watch: Sean O’Brien
The in-form Leinster back row was tipped as ‘one to watch’ last October in our International Scout Notes and since then has been improving game after game. His recent performances for Leinster in the Heineken Cup have seen the Carlow man pick up Man of the Match awards in both the Racing Metro and Saracens games.
RBS Six Nations Fixtures:
Saturday 5th February, Italy v Ireland, 14:30, Stadio Flaminio
Sunday 13th February, Ireland v France, 15:00, Aviva Stadium
Sunday 27th February, Scotland v Ireland, 15:00, Murrayfield
Saturday 12th March, Wales v Ireland, 17:00, Millennium Stadium
Saturday 19th March, Ireland v England, 17:00, Aviva Stadium
Key clash: Ireland v France
The home game against the French is crucial: it could potentially be the game that decides the championship. Despite France being beaten off the park by Australia at home in November 16-59, I predict they will be back with a bank this spring.
Odds: 3rd favorites at 11/4 with Paddy Power.
Argument that says they can win it:
The draw suits Ireland, playing both France and England in front of a home crowd in Landsdowne Road is a massive advantage – in 2009 this was a key factor for Ireland winning the Grand Slam. Another key advantage Ireland have is that the team will mostly be made up of Leinster players who know each other well, and so will hit the ground running. The return of Paul O’Connell, and potentially hooker Jerry Flannery, should see some much needed improvement to the set-pieces.
Argument that says they can’t:
Ireland has not had any consistency in the last 12 months despite fielding the same 22/25 players, and they don’t have any excuses relating to experimental sides or blooding new players. Ireland’s pack has been their Achilles heel over the last couple of seasons and unless there is a dramatic improvement, they will struggle against the English and French forwards.
Declan Kidney: “The nature of Irish rugby is that we need to concentrate on each game as it comes up. Whereas I think we can give any team in the world a game, we’re not good enough just to roll up and expect to win.”
Brian O’Driscoll: “My interest hasn’t waned in any way shape of form over the last decade or so. If anything I probably have more of a hunger for it now in the knowledge that I don’t know how many more years I will have left. You treat each Six Nations like it could be your last. In doing so you thoroughly enjoy each moment, whether it be playing or on the bus journey to and from games.”
Ireland to finish in the same position as last season, second behind France.
Highlights of 2009 Grand Slam: