Declan Kidney expects a ferociously fought RBS Six Championship
IRELAND coach Declan Kidney is predicting a ferociously contested RBS 6 Nations that is unlikely to produce a Grand Slam winner.
The Irish have been installed as fourth favourites to win the championship, behind World Cup finalists France, Wales and England.
"I'm not a regular reader of the odds but I imagine they're tight because it's as tight a championship as there's ever been," said Kidney.
"It comes just after a World Cup year and look what happened to Wales after 2007 - they failed to reach the knockout stages in France but went on to win the 2008 Grand Slam.
"Whoever comes out of the traps running will have a good tournament.
"It will be very hard to win all five matches and if a team does that then all credit to them.
"The championship could be decided by points difference. Each match is like a cup final in its own right."
Irish rugby is buoyant after Leinster, Munster and Ulster all reached the quarter-finals of European competition for the first time and Kidney hopes to tap into the provinces' success.
"If we can win the first match then we'll build a bit of momentum with the lads having done so well with their provinces," said Kidney.
"While the success in the Heineken Cup doesn't score you any points in the Six Nations, it allows you to go to work in good form."
Lock Paul O'Connell insists Ireland will feed off their provinces' success in Europe throughout the RBS 6 Nations.
For the first time Leinster, Munster and Ulster have all reached the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup with Irish representation in the last four guaranteed.
And O'Connell has revealed Ireland, who open their Six Nations campaign against Wales on Sunday week, are keen to transfer that progress into the Test arena.
"The provinces winning certainly gives the national team a lift," said O'Connell at today's tournament launch in London.
"We'll have a group of guys coming in from three teams who have been doing things differently yet have been successful.
"You bring in three different types of experience into a squad and that's a good thing.
"We've been used to winning games away from home and winning pressure games, figuring out ways to get the result. All of that combines and should be good for the Ireland team.
"It certainly puts a spring in your step and you can see the effect the successful campaigns have had on the atmosphere around the squad.
"It's been good that most of us have been able to move away from that disappointing performances in the World Cup quarter-final against Wales and put a campaign together.
"It gets that performance out of the system for a lot of us."
The 22-10 loss to Wales in Wellington last October brought an abrupt end to a World Cup that had promised so much.
Ireland produced their worst performance of the tournament and were well beaten by a side that played with greater dynamism and accuracy.
"That defeat certainly focuses the mind," said Lions skipper O'Connell.
"We just didn't perform to the best of our ability on the day and that's what you must do on the big occasions.
"We had a good World Cup in that we played well against Australia and Italy, we just didn't produce our best against Wales, certainly in that last half hour.
"There were two defensive lapses that gave the game to Wales and that was a big disappointment. Hopefully we can put that right next weekend.
"It's a really tough rivalry there. A lot of us got to know each other from the 2009 Lions tour.
"There's an edge to it and there have been some great, physical games."
Ireland meet Wales and then travel to Paris to face France in a challenging start to the Six Nations. O'Connell admits they must begin with all guns blazing.
"We can't afford a slow start against Wales. We won't be able to start by playing anything other than to the best of our potential," he said.
"We lost to them in the quarter-final because we didn't play to our potential and paid the price. We need to put in a big performance.
"There will be no warm-up going into it, we must produce it from the start."