Following a poor last year in terms of results for Ireland, there will be huge pressure on coach Declan Kidney to manage his talented team to a successful Six Nations position, with his contract expiring shortly.
While France look particularly strong, England and Wales have both shown inconsistency, and the general consensus is that this competition will be one of the more open showpieces of recent years. For the players themselves, there will be the added interest in trying to book themselves a seat on the plane to Australia this summer with the Lions; Warren Gatland has already indicated that his final squad will mainly be reflected from the players’ Six Nations performances.
Ireland will be without Paul O’Connell, for so long been synonymous with the Irish team, for the entire Six Nations. Other costly absences are that of Stephen Ferris and Tommy Bowe, who scored a very respectable 5 tries in last year’s competition.
With very few younger players having been introduced to the side in recent years, this season could prove to be a watershed moment of sorts for the younger players impressing at club level. Talents such as Simon Zebo, Craig Gilroy and Peter O’Mahony will all be prominent this time around.
However, they are able to welcome the talismanic Brian O’Driscoll back in to the squad, although James Heaslip, the current Number 8, has taken over his duty as captain. With no more significant injury problems, Kidney is able to name the same starting XV which played in Ireland’s last test in August for the opening match against Wales.
Last year this fixture came down to the wire, with a last minute penalty stealing the game from Ireland’s grasp; this time around, Ireland will be aching to make up for that excruciating loss.