Six Nations team guide: Ireland

Keith Woods' pundit view, captain Paul O'Connell's comments, video highlights and Six Nations predictions

Game guide

Sat 7 February Italy v Ireland 2pm BBC1 (kick-off 2.30pm)

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Sat 14 February Ireland v France 4.30pm BBC1 (kick-off 5pm)

Sun 1 March Ireland v England 2.30pm BBC1 (kick-off 3pm)

Sat 14 March Wales v Ireland 2pm BBC1 (kick-off 2.30pm)

Sat 21 March Scotland v Ireland 2.25pm BBC1 (kick-off 2.30pm)

Sing along

The Fields of Athenry Nothing warms the cockles on a cold day in Dublin like this Great Famine folk ballad. Gone are the ramshackle days of Lansdowne Road (complete with train line running beneath one stand), but when Ireland are on song, the swanky glass of the Aviva Stadium still shivers.

In a sentence

A fiercely strong autumn series puts Ireland as Six Nations favourites – and some are even muttering that they could pull off a World Cup win later this year. Coach Joe Schmidt is one of the smartest men in the sport, and you can be sure his green giants will have done their homework.

Pundit’s view: Keith Wood

What are your expectations for Ireland this year?

Ireland won all their Autumn internationals, but there is a different intensity to the Six Nations. Can they sustain it through the tournament on to the World Cup? I don’t know. I’d be happier taking on the favourites tag if we had a full squad to choose from – there are deep injury problems in Irish rugby at the moment.

What do you make of their coach Joe Schmidt?

Coach Joe Schmidt did a great job last year, getting a lot out of a team while dealing with the high-profile retirement of Brian O’Driscoll. He dealt with it all without any angst.

His coaching style puts a colossal amount of attention on the details, which I’m sure is quite taxing on the players. But as long as they’re winning with it, they’re going to like it.

Will it be odd watching Ireland in the Six Nations without Brian O’Driscoll?

O’Driscoll hangs over all of us. We have watched him and spoken about him for years, and he had featured in every single Six Nations tournament until this one. But when a player goes out to play for his team, he’s not bemoaning the fact that O’Driscoll isn’t playing. His duty is to Ireland.

Key players?

We are always reliant on forwards delivering big performances, be it Jamie Heaslip, Sean O’Brien or Paul O’Connell. But I thought in the Autumn, our half backs Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton began to manage the games between them. That was encouraging to see.

Here was a sharing of responsibility and leadership. Perhaps that was one benefit of not having O’Driscoll, the most-capped captain Irish captain of all time, outside them calling the shots.

Prediction?

Ireland won all their Autumn internationals, but there is a different intensity to the Six Nations. Can they sustain it through the tournament on to the World Cup? I don’t know. I’d be happier taking on the favourites tag if we had a full squad to choose from – there are deep injury problems in Irish rugby at the moment.

Captain Paul O’Connell says…

“There will be a lot of tight game sin the championship, and eother you need to come form behind and win games or you need to be able to close out games. The best way to do that is through keeping the ball and playing in the other team’s half.

“All across the board, I think every team is going to be better in this Six Nations than they were last year. All across the board you need to be moving forward all the time or you will get left behind.

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“I don’t know whether this will be my last championship. But I won’t prepare any differently. I’m contracted until the summer of 2016. I want to go to the World Cup in as good a condition as I can, and I’ll make a decision then.”