Looking at the Ireland squad that will contest the opening two rounds of this year’s 6 Nations there are some winners and losers, both Cian Healy and Mike Ross have been replaced by James Cronin and Tadgh Furlong, Joe Schmidt is moving away from the old hands although Cian Healy has struggled with injury and suspension since coming back from the World Cup. Mike Ross will be disappointed to have been left out but with the emergence of Tadgh Furlong coupled with the already well established Martin Moore, Mike Ross may finally have to admit defeat and feel that his International career could be coming to a close.
Elsewhere in the forwards, Josh Van Der Flier, Ultan Dillane and CJ Stander have earned first time call ups after strong performances over the last few months. Into the backs and there has been minimal change with only Stewart Mc Closkey being rewarded for his fine early season performances. Joe Schmidt hasn’t gone too far away from the squad that he picked for the World Cup.
The clamour for Gary Ringrose to be included will have to die down for another while even though the squad has only been announced for the 1st two rounds of the 6 Nations. Injuries may open the door for all players currently on the outside of the squad. Players like Gary Ringrose, Jordi Murphy and Cian Healy will have to wait until at least round 3 to break into the squad.
Looking to the tournament itself both Ireland and Wales want to start the campaign with a win but both sides will be the final two teams into action on the opening weekend. Already we have seen Warren Gatland heap the pressure on Schmidt and Ireland by saying that they are favourites to win a third consecutive Championship. After winning in 2014 and 2015 it would probably be natural to think that Ireland would have a real chance to win a 3rd title.
With both England and France under new coaches Guy Noves and Eddie Jones, both of those sides will fancy their chances to turn their team’s fortunes around. England will want to perform in this campaign after being knocked out of the World Cup at the group phase and France will want to bounce back after being dismantled by New Zealand in Cardiff in the Quarter Final. Ireland of course will want banish the demons of that defeat.
Italy and Scotland are not to be forgotten after Scotland came within a score of beating Australia to reach the Semi Final. They along with their coach Vern Cotter will be hell bent on improving on that Quarter Final performance and I am sure they will cause all the other teams many problems.
Looking to Italy they will want to send Coach Jacques Brunel away with some positive performances and maybe one or two wins to give the incoming coach the opportunity to build on some good results. The results have not been the best for Italy since Brunel took over from Nick Mallett. Whoever does take on the job will have to work with a team that has to depend on two underperforming club teams in the Pro 12. Some of their better players are plying their trade away from Italy and also they need to blood more players from there Under 20s side to give the team a well needed shot in the arm. Here’s hoping we have a good tournament to give Northern Hemisphere Rugby a well needed boost.
Cian Mc Gibney