Wednesday 23 August 2017

Johnny O'Connor: Strength in depth key to Ireland win

Even without Sexton we are still better than much improved Scots

The likes of Kieran Marmion provide Ireland with plenty of options Picture: Sportsfile
The likes of Kieran Marmion provide Ireland with plenty of options Picture: Sportsfile

Johnny O'Connor

Connacht's European adventure might be over, and the Pro12 is taking a break, but the Six Nations makes a welcome return this weekend and it doesn't get much more unpredictable than an opening day trip to Murrayfield for a clash with a rejuvenated Scotland.

Scottish rugby is on a high with Glasgow getting into the Champions Cup quarter-finals for the first time and that's a psychological boost for them. When Scotland are going well they are very physical, and they will usually outlast you in that department.

The bookies are looking at Ireland as -7 on the handicap, but it will be a very close game and it will be a hard one to call. Scotland are a better team than given credit for. With Scotland you expect a performance but they often fall short and Ireland have opened them up in the past.

It's a tasty start; some of those games in the Six Nations you don't know what's going to happen. You'd expect England to wallop France at home, but with Scotland and Ireland it's hard to predict what will unfold.

With Glasgow doing so well in Europe that is a huge bonus for them, and of course Edinburgh are doing brilliantly in the Challenge Cup too, so that's all good news for them.

Vern Cotter will want a big Six Nations, especially considering it's his last one in charge and you gather momentum from form. With their club sides reaching the knockout stages of their respective European competitions that will help build up a bit of momentum for the national side.

With just the two professional clubs in Scotland the players play together so often and they are in a relatively good state going into this tournament. But a vital part of this competition is what has your run-in been like? With just two weeks to prepare for a big game, some teams can't handle that.

But Ireland are certainly a side that seem to be getting their preparation right lately, particularly with the win over the All Blacks in November. In a short period of time they have been able to get the players to click.

Positive

For Ireland, they are playing in a very positive environment at the moment. They did so much as a group in the autumn, and they created so much history together. As a unit, Ireland are so far down the line in terms of their progression. 

Ireland will be very happy with where they stand coming into this tournament and they have created a big talent pool once again. Leinster and Munster are providing a lot of new players for the side, and it will be interesting to see how they integrate and what they add to a winning formula.

Ireland have strength in a lot of areas and it's a real competitive, young squad. They cope very well with this level of rugby and they should be able to hit the ground running against Scotland.

Along the road, success can be a very good thing for a young side. The squad is young and any experience they have will stand to them.

It's difficult to know whether this is the latest golden generation, but Ireland certainly have all the fundamental aspects for a really impressive, successful side.

Ireland can be world-class, and they are lucky to have one of the best half-back pairings in the world with Johnny Sexton - when he's fit - and Conor Murray. Those guys could make it onto any side in the world right now and they are in such pivotal positions.

But even below that, where Ireland might have struggled in the past, with guys like Kieran Marmion and Paddy Jackson as back-up, Ireland have plenty of depth to fill in when necessary.

Those guys are young and still learning at this level but they are getting better with every game, and they showed during the November internationals that they won't be overawed by even the biggest occasions.

In terms of this tournament, Ireland definitely have the potential to win it, but England are a serious threat once again. Despite all of their injuries the reigning champions look dangerous, and if both Ireland and England win their opening games it could lead nicely towards a final-day decider in Dublin.

Irish Independent

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