'It really is significant' - Shane Horgan explains why 2019 Six Nations could be 'really difficult' for Ireland
Ireland are heading into the 2019 Six Nations as defending Grand Slam champions but Shane Horgan has warned that Joe Schmidt's side face a 'really difficult campaign'.
Ireland recorded a perfect five wins out of five in 2018, capping a victorious Six Nations championship with a dominant win against England at Twickenham.
Schmidt's team have been even more impressive since, winning a test series in Australia over the summer before claiming a first ever victory over the All Blacks on home soil last month.
2019 beckons, with a Six Nations campaign to come before the huge pressure of delivering at the World Cup in Japan.
2nd Feb: Ireland v England.— Virgin Media Sport (@VMSportIE) December 15, 2018
9th Feb: Scotland v Ireland.
24th Feb: Italy v Ireland.
10th Mar: Ireland v France.
16th Mar: Wales v Ireland.
Shane Horgan & @MattRCNM look at a tough Guinness @SixNationsRugby schedule for @IrishRugby. pic.twitter.com/NRpNUPcvzm
Before the showpiece tournament, Irish fans will be hoping the team can achieve similar Six Nations success in 2019 but speaking on Virgin Media Sport, Shane Horgan issued a word of caution.
Ireland host England on the tournament's opening weekend before travelling to Murrayfield to face Scotland seven days later, while they end their campaign with a daunting six-day turnaround that features a home tie with France and a last-day clash with Wales in Cardiff.
Horgan says if Ireland don't play to their best in all four of those fixtures, they could end up having a tough eight weeks.
"Ireland have to deliver good performances to beat all those teams apart from Italy," Horgan said.
"They will brush Italy but if Scotland really get going and deliver a high class performance and Ireland aren't up there, they lose that game. That first game, England are going to be chomping at the bit and they have moved their game on over the autumn series as well. If Ireland don't deliver a good performance there, they are in trouble as well and the same against France.
"The final game in Wales, they are a momemtum team. If they are in it, then that is a really difficult fixture. This is a very difficult campaign for Ireland this year and just because we had a phenomenal year last year, doesn't mean it will be a breeze with back-to-back Grand Slams. They aren't done very often for a reason."
One crucial hurdle Ireland willl have to overcome to win the 2019 Six Nations is the short turnaround between their final two games. Wales in Cardiff has been a tough place to go for Ireland in the last few years, and the players won't have much time to rest their bodies after what is sure to be an ultra-physical game against the French.
Horgan says this could have a big influence on Ireland's final position in the table.
"It really is significant," Horgan said.
"It is hard enough to do a seven day turnaround in the Six Nations. They are brutal. What we do have is a lot of players. We have a big portfolio of players that can slot in and out pretty easily. But the bulk of the team will be asked to back up on a couple of occasions, and it is difficult."