Six Nation’s time. The question is will Ireland show up for the party or will they just be like drunken also-rans flapping about on the dancefloor?
As 2013 is an odd year Ireland will face the two favourites for the Six Nations title, England and France, at home. Winning the tournament’s opening match in Cardiff against Grand Slam holders Wales would create huge momentum for Ireland, and home support against les Blues and na Sasanaigh could be enough for Ireland to reclaim the championship.
The success of Munster and Ulster in this year’s Heineken Cup has bred confidence in the likes of David Kilcoyne, Craig Gilroy and Felix Jones while in Ian Madigan, Paddy Jackson and Ian Keatley there is hope for a future star at out half. 22 year old Simon Zebo has solidified the potential he showed in 2011 and should play a major role as a try finisher and broken field runner this year in a green jersey.
Leinster’s failure to qualify to the knock out stage of the Heineken Cup is a blessing in disguise for Ireland. With places up for grabs on the Lion’s Tour of Australia this summer, the Six Nations represents the last chance for Leinster’s marquee players to showcase themselves on an international stage.
Untimely distractions have come thick and fast for the Irish camp and as of yet the dust has not settled. Declan Kidney’s decision to permanently install Jamie Heaslip as team captain in the place of Brian O’Driscoll has left a bad taste in the mouth for what is to be O’Driscoll’s final Six Nations. While his position in the team has come under pressure, there was no need to replace O’Driscoll as captain, and Heaslip’s leadership qualities will be pushed to the limit if he is to guide Ireland to victory.
Jonny Sexton’s move to Racing Metro has bred uncertainty among the Leinster camp with Rob Kearney believing Sexton’s departure could “open the floodgates” for an Irish exodus to overseas clubs. It’s a professional game and of course money talks, but rumours that Sexton demanded the tag of “top player wage” from the IRFU means that unity is far from a given in the Irish camp.
Over the past year pressure has mounted on Declan Kidney and his coaching staff. Repeated backroom changes mean that Les Kiss no longer holds both roles of Attack Coach and the Defence Coach, with Anthony Foley taking charge of the latter. Kidney’s current contract ends after the Six Nations and should only be renewed if, 1) he is proven right about Heaslip’s captaincy; 2) he successfully mixes youth with experience in the backline; and 3) Ireland perform well at Lansdowne against France and England.
Since this time last year Ireland have played ten games and only won three of them; beating Italy and Scotland in the 2012 Six Nations, and then defeating an exhausted Argentina in the 2012 Autumn series. Anything short of a good campaign this year will see fans calling for change.
Ireland Six Nations Schedule
Wales v Ireland Millennium Stadium Sat 2nd Feb 13 13:30
Ireland v England Aviva Stadium Sun 10th Feb 13 15:00
Scotland v Ireland Murrayfield Sun 24th Feb 13 14:00
Ireland v France Aviva Stadium Sat 9th Mar 13 17:00
Italy v Ireland Stadio Olimpico Sat 16th Mar 13 14:30