Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go
For Wales this weekend it’s Grand Slam or bust. There will be no other outcome so they must take risks -and I think that coupled with home advantage gives the Welsh the slight edge against an Irish side returning to form. Ireland don’t have the best Six Nations track record in Cardiff and that trend is likely to continue come Saturday.
In many ways the horizon for Irish rugby has already moved to the World Cup later in the year, especially given an unlikely a win in Cardiff is even less likely to deliver them a Six Nations. And if there is something that binds Irishmen together more than anything else -it’s the shared horror that the English may be the beneficiaries of their efforts.
The Six Nations is effectively now two-tiered – with Ireland, England and Wales once again occupying the podium slots of the potential winners. France in 2010 was the last time any outside these three teams prevailed. So for Ireland remaining within this competitive trio will be sufficient pre-Japan.
And with the shift in focus beyond the Six Nations, Joe Schmidt will already be mentally marking the players’ homework from this campaign. Broadly across the squad the depth of experience has grown. Some new faces have emerged which again deepens the pool for the World Cup. The first-choice backline is pretty much settled with Jordan Larmour – hugely talented that he is – confirming he won’t manage to dislodge Rob Kearney in advance of the World Cup.
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Watch: Wales head coach Warren Gatland speaks about Grand Slam match with Ireland
The pack have depth, and the side to face Wales is a strong Irish side even without Iain Henderson, Devin Toner and Josh Van Der Flier. Sean O’Brien is back at openside and I wonder how close Joe Schmidt was to pitching Dan Leavy back in from the start and taking a risk. Leavy has had been tremendous for Ireland, and when fully fit he would be my first choice seven.
Some rather odd comment predictably crept beyond the margins of last weekend’s Ireland v France clash. The obituary of the yet to die. The post-match discussion around Rory Best prematurely talked of his likely successor as captain, and even as hooker. This all about a guy who is key to Ireland’s World Cup prospects and yet to formally announce any retirement. If commentators feel vacuum needs to be filled, find something else to talk about because no army wages war successfully amid discussions of the next king.
Ireland have learned the hard way this year that repeating any achievement is much more difficult that initial success, which can be intoxicating and distracting in equal measure. It’s a great lesson to learn before a World Cup campaign – where no team that can produce a one-off result, no matter how impressive, will come out overall on top. And let’s be perfectly honest, we all know Joe Schmidt’s focus. If Ireland can win a World Cup in 2019, no one will remember the Six Nations that came before it.
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