Ireland will start favourites in the Six Nations

"Barring injuries to key players, the ABs, WBs, Boks and the Puma, IMO, will be battle-hardened by September and ready to take on the 6N teams and brush them aside in their respective pools. " Ooh - I do love when a fan sticks his neck out. "Brush them aside?" Hmmm.

2 days ago
Six Nations 2015 preview: Ireland

Madigan has still to be really tested at test level at fly-half. Most of his key games have come at 12 this season.

3 days ago
Six Nations 2015 preview: Ireland

It's not all plain sailing on the good ship Emerald Isle. Schmidt has a few top riggers still quarantined below decks in the last few months, and a couple more have recently joined them. Sexton is on a strict Concussion Management programme so won't be available for the Italy test. He will be available for the France test, but won't have had any game time since last November. His understudy, Ian Madigan, has been getting his games for Leinster at 12, rather than 10, where he has impressed and is on the longlist for European Player of the Year and is top scorer for the competition. Paddy Jackson, the other rival for the 10 spot, is out injured. At scrum-half, Conor Murray and his back-up, Eoin Reddan, are both out injured and may not be available for the first test. Connacht's Kieran Marmion, Ulster's Paul Marshall, and Isaac Boss and Luke Marshall from Leinster are the alternatives. Probably Boss with his experience will get the nod to start. Henshaw is also carrying an injury and hasn't been passed fit yet, but should be ok. Darcy is also out injured at 12, so Henshaw may be moved to 12 with Leinster's Luke Fitzgerald coming in at 13 where he has been a revelation in the last few matches for Leinster in the European Cup. The back three choices are certainly more favourable with Munster's Keith Earls recovered after a long layoff, along with Zebo, Gilroy, Bowe, McFadden, Reid and Dave Kearney in the mix for the wings, with Rob Kearney and Jared Payne for the 15 shirt. There's better news up front with Cian Healy and Marty Moore back int he mix in the prop stocks, and both could be starters for the first test. Jack McGrath, Tadgh Furlong and Mike Ross are some of the back-ups, with Best, Cronin and Strauss all available at hooker. Another worry for Schmidt is the recent form of Paul O'Connell who has been off the pace and performing badly in a couple of munster games. Ian Henderson made a storming comeback for Ulster last weekend, and might partner Devin Toner in the second row at some point. The back row stocks are still missing Rhys Ruddock and Chris Henry, but the likely return of Sean O'Brien after a number of months will be a welcome sight. Jamie Heaslip, another longlist nominee for European Player of the Year, has been carrying a shoulder injury for the last three weeks. Heaslip has an incredible injury-free record but the upcoming Jordi Murphy and Jack Conan from Leinster are good back-ups, and Tommy O'donned and Peter O'Mahony from Munster as flankers. Having Italy first-up in rome is a good tough starter. It may not be pretty to look at with a fired-up Italian side looking tomato their mark in the first of the Championship matches, but it should give Schmidt a good chance to get his players moving the way he wants, and allow partnerships to bed in before the tough home matches against France and England. There may not be a Grand Slam this year with the RWC looming, but a return of 4 out of 5 is the least Schmidt and the fans might expect.

4 days ago
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