Six Nations Pedigree:
Ireland’s recent 6 Nations record stands up to close scrutiny. In fact, only France have a better record (44 wins vs Ireland’s 43) since the tournament was expanded to include Italy. That said, 2009’s Grand Slam remains their only Championship win since the heady days of the early 1980s when they picked up 3 titles in 4 years. It must be said they have struggled for consistency in the last couple of years, but showed signs of returning to their best in New Zealand, particularly against Australia and in the second half against Italy, before capitulating against Wales.
Best Six Nations Moment:
This must unquestionably be the defining moment of Irish rugby; the 2009 Grand Slam win and Ronan O’Gara’s drop goal. 2 minutes after it looked like Stephen Jones had stolen the Grand Slam from under Irish noses, O’Gara’s drop is as much engrained in Irish supporters’ memories as that of Jonny Wilkinson’s 2003 drop is in English minds.
Biggest Six Nations Win: 60-13 vs Italy – 5th March 2000. 6 tries and 30 points from the boot of Ronan O’Gara in Italy’s debut season
Biggest Six Nations Defeat: 6-46 vs England – 15th February 1997. 6 England tries at Lansdowne Road when it was still a 5 Nation tournament
Key Player: Sean O’Brien
Last year’s European player of the year had an up and down World Cup, standing out in the Pool matches but being “outfetched” by Sam Warburton in the Quarter Final defeat. Gradually coming back to his best this winter, he is the key man, in the absence of David Wallace, who will provide the much needed link between the grunt of the likes of O’Connell and Healy and the guile of the backs.
One to Watch: Cian Healy
Showed signs during the World Cup that he was finally taking provincial form onto the International stage. Ever more solid in the scrum, it is his hard yards in the loose which can cause untold damage to a creaking defence.
Six Nations Fixtures:
Sunday 5th February 15:00 v Wales, Aviva Stadium
Saturday 11th February 20:00 v France, Stade de France
Saturday 25th February 13:30 v Italy, Aviva Stadium
Saturday 10th March 17:00 v Scotland, Aviva Stadium
Saturday 17th March 17:00 v England, Twickenham Stadium
After losing in Cardiff to the Welsh last season, and in the RWC Quarter Final in October, a good start at home to the Welsh is the key to a good Irish showing this time around and could well set the base for a Triple Crown or, say it quietly, a tournament win. Tough away trips to France and England make ‘even’ years harder than ‘odd’ years for Ireland.
Odds: 11/2 to win the tournament – a higher price due to being away in both Paris and London
Coach Declan Kidney says: “The World Cup is over. Wales beat us fair and square on the day. We are looking forward now to a fresh challenge and will try to play to the best of our ability.”
Captain Paul O’Connell says: “Winning is a habit. Whatever jersey you have on, it doesn’t make a difference. The Provinces are winning games at home and away and are winning pressure games. Hopefully we will bring that winning habit to the National side.”
Ireland will be looking to build on the success of their Provincial sides in the Heineken Cup. A solid pack will hope to set the base for a relatively young back line without their talismanic leader. Even without BOD I predict a Top 2 finish with 4 wins (defeat in Paris) and potentially the title if other results help. 2nd
by Mark Bonsall