EARLIER, WE BROUGHT you an apocalyptic version of the Six Nations’ future, where every negative aspect was magnified and it seemed like there was no point in even watching.
Now, however – like Superman and Paul O’Connell all rolled into one – hope comes along and shows you the way.
Here we go, ladies and gentlemen.
Here. We. Go.
Two words: Sexton, Jonathan.
Racing Metro’s (rumoured) marquee signing will be Ireland’s key man this spring and there’s not a more single-minded being to rest your hopes upon.
This year, Sexton can truly claim the number 10 shirt as his own. Ronan O’Gara will be on the bench, but only as an emergency option. The (soon-to-be ex) Leinster fly-half will have an added incentive to perform, knowing that some in the crowd are still harbouring a little resentment that he would leave for pastures new.
His half back partnership will also improve from a little added distilling time. The too-often-maligned Conor Murray has reacted impeccably to being blamed for Munster’s early season defeat in Paris and has grown with the extra weight of responsibility given to him by Rob Penney.
He is comfortable leading from the front with his province and Ireland will reap the benefit of that over the next seven weeks.
The boys are back in town…
Around the number 10, Declan Kidney can welcome back Ireland’s greatest centre to the mix. Not to mention our most dynamic ball-carrier (to the pack) and the European player of the year.
It was Brian O’Driscoll’s leadership in backline defence that cost Ireland when they back-peddled from Wales’ final roll of the dice rather than pushing up and stopping them at source.
Sean O’Brien has made himself into a fine open-side, and there is no doubt that Rob Kearney’s return gives Ireland a whole new arsenal, both on the ground and in the air.
…and so are our main title threats.
Ireland always have a chance in the odd years. For these are the occasions we don’t face the uphill climbs in Twickenham and Stade de France.
In front of a fervent Aviva Stadium, England and France are beatable – particularly the former, if their heads continue to be inflated with talk of a Grand Slam.
France looked like a cut above everyone in November. But Philippe Sainte-Andre is keen to keep them on a tight leash and there is only so long that Freddy Michalak can go without that flair-filled heart of his longing to do something dangerous in a tight game.
Ireland have three fixtures on the road, but the Millennium Stadium has been witness to so many defining moments for Irish rugby it is difficult to find the place daunting. Overcome a wounded Welsh pack and Ireland will be nicely set up on the front foot.
Do it for Drico
The (non-Canadian) Great One has hinted that this may well be his last Six Nations. It’s unthinkable that he could ride off into the sunset with only one championship medal to his name.
The man single-handedly made the difference between a Grand Slam and an also-ran year in 2009. If ever it was time to repay the deposed captain, it’s now.
It’s a new day, Deccie!
The decision to take the metaphorical armband from O’Driscoll does not have to be a negative. The symbolism of awarding it to Jamie Heaslip was Kidney’s attempt to signal a new start for a team badly in need of a jolt.
The retention of Simon Zebo and Craig Gilroy over their more experienced alternatives is a positive move which Kidney has refreshingly asserted was based on an intent to focus on his own attacking game-plan rather than worrying about what Wales might throw at us.
The new leadership team built around Heaslip also ensures more responsibility will be being taken on by players who, until now, perhaps still viewed themselves as new kids in comparison to old-stagers like O’Driscoll, Rory Best and Gordon D’Arcy.
Now, time to win some games.