And so it all begins again. Another four-year cycle that will lead us to another World Cup. And it all starts with this 6 Nations. The last World Cup is now the distant past with the next one being the tantalising future.
What’s great about rugby’s life cycle is that each team basically has four years together. Sure, there are some holdovers but new players are introduced, along with fresh ideas to right the wrongs of the previous World Cup.
We used to think that 2003-2007 team was our pinnacle but the 2007-2011 golden generation reboot was even stronger. In retrospect the difference in quality was similar to how Christian Bale and George Clooney played Batman. So where does this leave the current side?
A clichéd question that is beaten into the ground is how should you approach the 6 Nations? Should you blood a host of new players or should you play to win?
You need to earn the right to represent your country and caps shouldn’t be sent out like a spam email just to show the fans that you are rebuilding. Ireland’s squad is as nice a mix of tried and untested as our playing pool will allow.
That brings us onto the goals for this campaign. For Ireland to win this competition, and at 5-1 give punters a tasty payout, there is a checklist of things they need to accomplish.
This Irish group is far too good never to have won a 6 Nations game in France. The Irish mindset when playing in Paris is similar to the Irish mindset regarding French wine: It’s French therefore it must be good.
Twice in Eddie O’Sullivan’s reign Ireland spotted France huge leads before realising that these are the same players that they routinely beat in provincial clashes. And while the intensity from provincial to international isn’t exactly like for like, it certainly isn’t chalk and cheese either.
Unfortunately for Ireland this new look French team have fixed some of their recent flaws by putting more Clermont players in the backline and having their first coach in twelve years that isn’t borderline insane. That being the case it’s time for Ireland to compete properly in France rather than claw back a few late scores after the French start to nod off.
Another chief order of business is to make Lansdowne Road the fortress that it has been for the provinces. Only once in the last five 6 Nations have Ireland won all their home games, a measly figure considering we have been upset by both Wales and Scotland during that time. The best sides have a huge home advantage and unfortunately for Ireland that has not been the case in recent times. Sure, they can get up for the England game but that is for reasons that have little to do with rugby.
Some players also need to reprove themselves after a disappointing World Cup. Ireland’s ball carrying backrow of Heaslip, O’Brien and Ferris were completely shutdown in the quarter-final and the onus is on them and Ireland’s new attack coaches Les Kiss and Mark Tainton to give them a back up plan. The problem with being as good as they are, is that they feel they don’t need a plan b and that what works for them at club level will work at international level. But as we saw against Wales it is important to have variety in your attack.
With England and France away this is meant to be one of Ireland’s off years but all 5 of Ireland’s games are winnable. We have lost two games in the last two campaigns, and another outing like that will leave the players searching for answers as to why the international game vexes them in a way that the Heineken Cup never has.
England at Twickenham is the final game and it could well come down to Ireland playing for both the championship and championship respectability. At least we shouldn’t have to worry about them being motivated.