Bowe: Ireland can lay down a marker for World Cup
Tommy Bowe has conceded that beating Italy and France in the opening two weeks of the Six Nations would lay down a psychological marker for the World Cup, but the Ulster winger insists that the tournament is firmly at the back of Ireland's minds as they approach their title defence.
The fact that all three sides will do battle to qualify from Pool D when the World Cup begins in September lends plenty of intrigue to the opening fortnight of Six Nations action, but the squad and management are holding the line that the focus is entirely on the upcoming Championship.
Ireland take on the Italians in Rome on Saturday before welcoming France to the Aviva Stadium on February 14 and, given the number of big name players who are returning from injury in the coming weeks, success in those two matches will set them up well for the rest of the spring.
And it will also have an impact come autumn when events get under way in England and Wales.
"I suppose looking from the outside in, maybe it does, but certainly for us as a team we won't be really taking that into the consideration," Bowe said.
"Listen, if we can get two wins under our belt in the first two games, it's going to put us psychologically in a great position going into the World Cup.
"But we're very much concentrating on this week and then on to next week. How it's going to line us up for the World Cup isn't something worth thinking about."
Ireland's injury list has eased in recent days, with Jamie Heaslip the main doubt going into the Rome opener as he continues to recover from the shoulder injury he suffered on January 3. The Leinster No 8 will train today in an attempt to prove his fitness, but Conor Murray is expected to play, while Dave Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald have overcome their problems and are in contention.
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Johnny Sexton will see his neurosurgeon in Paris on Thursday to establish his readiness to return against France in round two as his period on the sidelines comes to an end, while Cian Healy is set to return later this week and could also feature on St Valentine's Day.
Sean O'Brien is in line for a bench spot against Italy after coming through his return for the Wolfhounds against the Saxons on Friday unscathed along with Iain Henderson, Mike Ross, Jack McGrath and Keith Earls.