Six Nations 2015: Six reasons why Ireland will win the championship
They started out as many people's favourites and, despite their blip in Cardiff, Ireland will still go on to win the Six Nations. Here's why ...
1. They won last year
Ireland were in a similar position 12 months ago of needing to win abroad on the final day. They went to Paris – never the easiest of trips – and won a thrilling match to give Brian O'Driscoll his fairytale send-off. That experience will stand Joe Schmidt's men in good stead, even if in theory England have the advantage of going last and knowing exactly how many points they need to score.
2. Ireland can play with more freedom
Although England will know all the permutations heading into their clash with France at Twickenham, that may adversely affect their focus, possibly encouraging Stuart Lancaster's team to run before they can walk. Ireland will go out at Murrayfield unencumbered by the pressure of needing to achieve a certain score. They can concentrate on getting the basics right and letting the points flow naturally. If Ireland can post a big score, so much the better. (ps No one in their right mind would suggest Scotland fans would welcome a heavy defeat but if it denied England the championship that might soften the blow).
3. Ireland have won 13 of their 18 matches against Scotland this century
Recent history suggests Ireland have the beating of Scotland, even at Murrayfield. Although Scotland won their last Six Nations encounter in Edinburgh in 2013, Ireland won the five before that (in 2011, 2009, 2007, 2005 and 2003).
4. Ireland did not play badly against Wales
64 per cent possession and 66 per cent territory at the Millennium Stadium are not the statistics of a team out of form. So Ireland came up against an inspired Welsh defence in Cardiff on Saturday, they still created a huge amount of pressure, had overlaps they should have exploited, and generally should have scored more. That they didn't is a concern – Schmidt suggested his team needed to get better at improvising when Plan A wasn't working – but it was not as if they were hammered or looked disjointed.
5. Ireland have Sexton
Jonathan Sexton had an off day in Cardiff. So much so there were rumours swirling around that he might still have been concussed. Assuming those rumours are wide of the mark, don't expect Ireland's fly half to have another off day. Sexton has grown in stature over the last 18 months to the point where he is now widely recognised as one of the world's best No 10s. And for good reason. He has everything in his locker, knows his role, and plays in a team and a system that suits his strengths.
6. Joe Schmidt
Which brings us to Ireland's head coach. A quiet self-effacing man, Schmidt has somehow got everyone in the Ireland squad dancing to his tune; terrified of upsetting him, aware that his forensic attention to detail leaves no hiding place. The New Zealander view is that Saturday's defeat by Wales may have been "a blessing in disguise" as it will give an already formidable unit experience of having to do things a little differently when matched in the kicking department and at the breakdown. Ireland will be desperate to show how clinical they can be on Saturday, to prove they are not one-trick ponies.