ARE YOU EXCITED yet? It is just two days until the first game of the 2015 Six Nations and less than 72 hours from when Ireland start their defence of the title they won in dramatic circumstances in Paris last March.
After three wins from three in November – including victories against two southern hemisphere superpowers – expectations are high for Joe Schmidt’s men to repeat as champions.
They are marginal favourites in the bookies but with so much quality in this year’s tournament not many people are predicting a Grand Slam by any team. If it comes down to points difference the advantage might be with the England side who have finished second the last three seasons as they host Italy and Scotland, who have traditionally been the weaker teams.
Speaking to The42 ahead of this weekend’s action, former England centre and BBC pundit Jeremy Guscott is tipping his former side to poach a crucial away win and then buttress their points differential at home.
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“I’m going to stick with England [to win the championship] but I don’t think there will be a Grand Slam,” Guscott said.
In 2013 England travelled to the Millennium Stadium knowing a win would deliver their first Grand Slam in ten years while a defeat by six points or less would seal the championship. Unfortunately for coach Stuart Lancaster his side ticked neither box and were routed 30-3.
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England go into a rematch of that clash on Friday night but it is the week three visit to Dublin that could well dictate where the championship will reside at the end of March. Despite tipping England to win overall, Guscott has been very impressed with the way Joe Schmidt has built his side since taking over.
“At the moment England are ranked fifth and Ireland are third and it is deserved after what Ireland did in the autumn,” Guscott said.
“Joe Schmidt is doing a great job. I am excited to see what little bits and pieces – like Bowe’s try from the chip against South Africa – that he comes up with after his analysis. It will be interesting to see what he is going to do differently against England this year, what game plan will he come up with to try and beat them because the game was very close last year.”
Usually it is the England team who arrive at tournaments burdened by expectations but this year it seems the majority of fans and pundits are expecting Ireland to continue the progress they have made in the last year.
Traditionally Ireland have struggled as frontrunners – the 2007 Six Nations and 2011 World Cup quarter-final would be two examples – and it will be interesting to see what if any impact the favourites tag has on the team this spring.
Guscott thinks the perception that Ireland don’t deal with expectations very well is something that was created inside the country but says that Joe Schmidt might just be the man to break the mentality.
“I think that [struggling as favourites] is just an internal Irish belief,” Guscott said.
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