Ireland are my pick for this year’s Six Nations, naturally. There’s a resurgent French side, a rebuilding Welsh team and strong representation elsewhere but I think the Irish have the depth to win the tournament.
I am not at all worried about the absence of players like Chris Farrell and James Lowe, for example, when I step back and look at the talent we have coming through. I am hoping someone like Michael Lowry gets a run out.
There are great players emerging from the provinces; whether they get a start remains to be seen, but being able to lose some big players and still have Bundee Aki, Craig Casey and Andrew Conway is going to help us.
And then you only need to glance at the brutes up front. Peter O’Mahony seems to be like Benjamin Button – getting younger and younger every year – and then you have Tadhg Beirne who’s been world class for the last few years.
There’s real depth to mould around the spine of the squad but of course we are hoping Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton will be fit for the whole tournament.
They have been world class players. I’m not sure if they’re still world class, but if those two are firing and the heartbeat of the team then it can only be a positive thing.
The opening two fixtures, at home to Wales and away to France, will set the tone for the tournament. Everyone wants to get off to a good start but there’s no easy matches this year.
There was a time in the 1990s where the away team always won when we played Wales. That trend seems to have bucked at the moment, which bodes well.
France, having had the All Blacks tenderised by the Irish, beat New Zealand in the autumn and will have their own Six Nations ambitions this year. They’re looking very strong.
History shows that Italy have more wooden spoons in their cutlery drawer than anyone else but you’ve got to remember that France took a while to win once they joined the competition.
Any up and coming rugby player wants to play for their first team but for those lucky few who go on to play for their country the Six Nations is a huge honour. It’s a special competition with an unbelievable amount of heritage.
The old Lansdowne Road was my favourite. She had some old battle scars but when you had 50,000 there the atmosphere was electric. Those memories will stay with me forever.
I cannot wait for Six Nations weekends now that I’m hurling from the ditch, as we say. Watching from an armchair and not getting beaten up but knowing what it was like to do that means I get the best of both worlds.
|Ireland’s player of the tournament||Tadhg Beirne|