Six Nations Preview and Prediction: Ireland

aviva stadium

Coach: Declan Kidney

Home ground: Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Rd, Dublin

Strengths:
Much criticised for his conservatism in the past, Declan Kidney blooded a host of promising Irish youngsters in the autumn and will be confident they can continue on in the same vein having trounced Argentina. Brian O’Driscoll and Rob Kearney return to the squad having been absent during that period. Likewise Rory Best and Sean O’Brien are welcomed back into the pack, giving Ireland a promising blend of experience and youth.

Ireland are developing a degree of depth in the squad, with their young talent finally given the platform to impress, which has been missing in recent years. Nonetheless the experience of O’Driscoll and company will be vital to a successful campaign.

Weaknesses:
Should injury befall either Jonathan Sexton or Mike Ross, Ireland will be in trouble. The simple fact is, Declan Kidney has no readymade replacement for either of these two. Ronan O’Gara, while vastly experienced, has been a shadow of his former self this season. The other options at fly-half, Ian Madigan, Paddy Jackson and Ian Keatley, though talented, are untried at international level.

The tight-head situation is no better. Michael Bent was controversially imported from New Zealand but has failed to live up to expectations thus far, and Declan Fitzpatrick’s continued fitness problems leave Ireland with Mike Ross as their only internationally proven tight-head.

Player to watch: Simon Zebo
Zebo has only three caps to his name but looked Ireland’s most dangerous attacking threat from fullback during the Autumn Internationals. The return of Rob Kearney will mean a probable switch to the more familiar position of wing. Zebo scored a crucial hat-trick against Racing Metro in Round 6 of the Heineken which sealed Munster’s place in the quarter-finals at the expense of provincial rivals Leinster. That’s the kind of form, and hunger for crossing the line, which could impress many during the campaign.

Last season: 3rd
Ireland got off on the wrong foot with a sluggish performance and surprise loss to Wales in their opening fixture at the Aviva. A promising draw in Paris sandwiched by expected victories over Italy and Scotland offered some hope of redemption. However, they were firmly put in their place by a rampant English pack which meant the campaign ended with a somewhat sour taste in the mouth.

Prediction: 3rd
Like their previous campaign, how Ireland move forward will depend largely on their opening fixture against the Welsh. A win in Cardiff would set up an intriguing game against England in Dublin, with Ireland out for revenge for the humiliation they suffered last year. Having the English and French come to Dublin always provides Ireland’s best opportunity of a championship challenge; there is the distinct possibility, however, that this young team may slip up at some point on their way.

By David Blair

10 thoughts on “Six Nations Preview and Prediction: Ireland

  1. “surprise loss to Wales” – why was it a surprise? Wales had beaten them in their last two matches. Wales reached the semi of the WC and were being mentioned by some as Grand Slam contenders. I was surprised the match was so close. Odd statement to make in what is otherwise a good review. Agree that the first match will be an important one for the whole tournament.

    1. From an Irish perspective we have come to expect, rightly or wrongly, that Ireland win all their home games in the Six Nations.

      In that sense last seasons Welsh loss was a surprise, and a reality check for Ireland.

      1. I can see that Dave … I was thinking the article was impartial though so was implying there was general surprise that Wales one which I don’t understand. Wales had convincingly beaten Ireland in their last game so the general feeling I got was that Wales were the favourites for that match.

  2. I dont think it was that strange a comment. Although Wales were very good in the world cup match, travelling to Dublin has never been their strong point. It took a top Welsh performance to turn over what was a good Irish team in their own patch and if O driscoll had been playing, It wouldnt have been close, Ireland would have won.

    The first game is massive for both teams, if Wales win, I expect them to finish comfortably above Ireland. However, if Ireland win, I wouldnt be surprised if they lost to ENgland. I have a funny feeling they are more likely to beat England on the back of a defeat.

    Damn that is annoying.

  3. From memory Wales had lots of players out injured last year too about a a third of the team that started the World Cup quarter final were missing.Probably that was the main suprise element of the win.If anything it wouldn’t have been so close if Priestland’s place kicking hadn’t gone absent without leave in the first half.

  4. I agree with Brighty that it was hardly that much of a surprise. The only surprise was the free unwarranted penalty and thus match given to Wales at the death courtesy of Wayne Barnes phumph!. It’s unusual for Ireland to lose to Wales at home though. This time they go to Cardiff which had been fruitful for them until recent years viz a viz Paddy Wallace.

    On Ireland:
    If they lose to Wales in Cardiff, which is distinctly possible then it will be nothing more than another mixed bag campaign or worse. It will be a close game, and there will be several close calls this time around. Don’t see Ireland winning it, maybe runners up or 3rd.

  5. Have to agree with Mitchell above, the game was handed to Wales by Barnes. As if the obvious red that he decided was a yellow, wasn’t enough – minutes later he adds to Ireland’s disbelief with another yellow for tackle that was barely a tip, giving a pen in front of the sticks. Awful reffing.

    If I was an Ireland fan watching that, whilst still fuming over the Mike Phillips ‘ball switch’ incident – I would be wondering if there wasn’t some kind of conspiracy going on. I really hope Sexton’s at his best this weekend and the boys in green get what’s owed to them. Mind you, If Ireland win convincingly – then having Eng AND Fra at home may make them the bookie’s favourites?

    1. That’s what adds the spice to this game – Ireland believe that Wales have unfairly beaten them – take some facts that support this theory, add in the belief that Irish players are better than Welsh players because of HC performances and you have the perfect recipe for feeling slighted.

      The Phillips incident was clear – but I do laugh at this idea that Wales were clearly the inferior team on that day and would have been hammered if not for the cheating. If Ireland were that much better than Wales then one try wouldn’t have been the difference between the two.

      The next time we played Ireland we beat them clearly – WC QF. Wales were the better team in all facets.

      Last year I disagree that Barnes handed the game to Wales but I know others will have a different opinion. You could pick up a load of incidents in that game that should have resulted in pens for Wales or pens for Ireland that should not have been, and vice versa. Barnes is an idiot but often he just ruins games, not hands them to one team or the other.

      The Bradley Davies assault was retaliation for the Ireland scrum half smashing Adam Jones off the ball after the ruck had finished – so both should have been shown red. So there was no advantage to Wales there as only one player went off the field.

      The penalty at the end was massively soft but Wales were all over that game by then. We had pushed ourselves from our own tryline to within sight of the Irish 22 and were still going forward. I think we would have scored without the penalty.

      All ifs/buts … however, I think this idea that Wales have been handed two six nations wins over Ireland is wrong and I think the WC QF showed that Wales don’t need refs to “give them the game”, they’re quite capable of beating Ireland anyway. It’s just that after Ireland lose to Wales all the focus shifts back to why and it’s never admitted Wales were the better team (they can’t be because Leinster won 3 HCs, etc.) so it’s always someone else’s fault.

      Roll on this Saturday. Can’t wait – I hope it’s a cracker. Should be a great day out in Cardiff.

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