“You never defend anything. You give back the trophy, and then you try and win it again.”
So said Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll at the Six Nations launch press conference earlier this week.
Go get 'em tiger.
Ireland remained unbeaten in 2009 and clinched last season's Six Nations Grand Slam on the way to a victory over current World Champions South Africa. 2010's Six Nations competition looks to be a little tougher for the men in green, as the big games against France and England are both on the road and away from the bubbling cauldron that is a packed Croke Park. Despite this, Ireland are many people's favourites to win a back to Six Nations title, if not a repeat of last year's Grand Slam.
Ireland is a team packed full of world class talent, which is where they have an advantage over the other home nations. How many of the England starting XV would make it into a World XV? Probably none. Wales? 3? 4? Scotland? Zero. Contrast that with Ireland who have the shining stars of Brian O'Driscoll, Paul O'Connell, Rob Kearney, Tommy Bowe and Jamie Heaslip: all of who are world class players and are bang in form. Oh, and don't forget Jonny Sexton, Ireland's new rugby darling, and quite rightly so after his performances with Leinster and Ireland. (Did you see his calm and collected last gasp drop goal to secure a home draw in the Heineken Cup quarter finals for Leinster last weekend? Exactly).
Anyway, on to the Unofficial Top Trumps. All categories are scored out of a maximum 100.
And here's why:
A perceived area of weakness for Ireland after the internationally inexperienced Cian Healy was taught a lesson or two against Australia. Other sides will look to target this chink in Ireland's well polished armour.
With Munster men and fellow Lions, Paul O'Connell and Donnacha O'Callaghan as targets to aim for in the line out, provided that the selected hooker (Flannery, Best or Cronin?) can hit his man, this is a set piece that should win a lot of ball for Ireland.
Attacking Flair: 79/100.
Where do I start? Brian O'Driscoll looks likely to be partnered with his fellow Leinster centre Gordon D'Arcy after O'Driscoll's partner from the November tests, Paddy Wallace, was included in the Ireland 'A' squad. D'Arcy is in a purple patch of form at the moment, as is O'Driscoll, Horgan, Bowe, and Kearney (despite him looking uncharacteristically shaky under the high ball recently). Ireland also demonstrated the ability to grind out games last year in the 20-20 draw against Australia, but their glittering back line is packed full of talent who enjoy running from deep.
Ireland seem to have a never say die attitude both in attack and defence. Just please no last minute crazy challenges in the potentially Grand Slam winning game this year, eh Paddy Wallace...
Croke Park. Capacity 82,300.
Snore Factor: 23/100.
Low. No rugby by numbers here. Take note Johnno and chums.
Phwoargh Factor: 88/100.
Very high. I mean, the ladies are really spoilt for choice with crinkly eyed BOD, smouldering Rob Kearney, hunky Jamie Heaslip, drop dead gorgeous David Wallace... The list goes on and on.
Scandal Potential: 69/100.
High. With Stephen Ferris the current eye-gouging victim of choice, when Ireland take on France at the Stade de France on 13 February there could be an anti-ban backlash from the French crowd after the 70 week ban of Stade Francais' David Attoub and the 23 week ban of Julien Dupuy. Quelle horreur.
As for the final standings:
Last season: 1st with the Grand Slam
Prediction for this season: 1st but with no Grand Slam. I tip them for the Triple Crown though.