Six Nations 2018 Preview: Ireland

Chomping at the bit.

Ireland will head into this year’s Six Nations absolutely brimming with confidence. A clean sweep in November was followed by Munster and Leinster steamrolling their way into the knockout stages of the Champions Cup, with the men in blue favourites to win the competition outright.

Schmidt has options everywhere on the pitch, with almost a clean bill of health in terms of his star names. Sean O’Brien will be missed, as will Garry Ringrose, but the likes of Josh van der Flier and Bundee Aki will slot in nicely.

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Up first it’s a trip to Paris for Ireland. As mentioned previously, we’re not quite sure what kind of France team will show up at this year’s competition. But knowing Schmidt and his Ireland team, they will go about their job professionally and come away with a win.

Then it’s three home games in-a-row at the Aviva. Italy and Wales likely will not have enough in Dublin to overturn the men in green, but Scotland could prove to be a banana skin. That being said, you’d imagine Ireland, and Schmidt in particular, will have learned from last year’s mistakes and send Gregor Townsend’s men home with nothing. Still, it’s a hard one to call, and if Ireland are to lose a game in the lead up to the final day, this will be it.

Lastly it’s a trip to Twickenham on the final day to take on current holders England. Eddie Jones’ men are looking to win an unprecedented third title in-a-row, but as we said in the England preview, we don’t think this will be winner takes the Grand Slam. Scotland will likely upset England or Ireland. This game could still however, be winner takes the competition.

Key player: Johnny Sexton

The Leinster playmaker is coming into the Six Nations for the first time since 2015 (when Ireland last won the competition), fit and in-form. He’s well rested thanks to Leinster’s form in Europe, and he’s been firing on all cylinders so far this season. Alongside Conor Murray, he’s arguably one half of the best halfback pairing in the world.

Fixtures

  • France – Stade de France – Saturday, February 3 – 5.45pm (GMT)
  • Italy- Aviva Stadium – Saturday, February 10 – 2.15pm (GMT)
  • Wales – Aviva Stadium – Saturday, February 24 – 2.15pm (GMT)
  • Scotland – Aviva Stadium – Saturday, March 10 – 2.15pm (GMT)
  • England – Twickenham Stadium – Saturday, March 17 – 2.45pm (GMT)

Ireland’s 36-man squad for the 2018 Six Nations:

BACKS (16): Andrew Conway (Munster), Keith Earls (Munster), Rob Kearney (Leinster), Fergus McFadden (Leinster), Jordan Larmour (Leinster), Jacob Stockdale (Ulster), Bundee Aki (Connacht), Chris Farrell (Munster), Robbie Henshaw (Leinster), Rory Scannell (Munster), Joey Carbery (Leinster), Ian Keatley (Munster), Jonathan Sexton (Leinster), Kieran Marmion (Connacht), Luke McGrath (Leinster), Conor Murray (Munster).

FORWARDS (20): Rory Best (Ulster, c), Sean Cronin (Leinster), Rob Herring (Ulster), James Cronin (Munster), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster), Cian Healy (Leinster), Jack McGrath (Leinster), Andrew Porter (Leinster), John Ryan (Munster), Ultan Dillane (Connacht), Iain Henderson (Ulster), Quinn Roux (Connacht), James Ryan (Leinster), Devin Toner (Leinster), Jack Conan (Leinster), Dan Leavy (Leinster), Jordi Murphy (Leinster), Peter O’Mahony (Munster), CJ Stander (Munster), Josh van der Flier (Leinster).