Sport The Left Wing

Wednesday 23 January 2019

'We'll go into it in our best ever position' - Luke Fitzgerald looks ahead to a huge year for Irish rugby

17 November 2018; Ireland players, from left, Jack McGrath, James Ryan, Peter O'Mahony, Jonathan Sexton, Keith Earls, Bundee Aki and Kieran Marmion sing the National Anthem prior to the Guinness Series International match between Ireland and New Zealand at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
17 November 2018; Ireland players, from left, Jack McGrath, James Ryan, Peter O'Mahony, Jonathan Sexton, Keith Earls, Bundee Aki and Kieran Marmion sing the National Anthem prior to the Guinness Series International match between Ireland and New Zealand at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Luke Fitzgerald says Ireland will enter the 2019 Six Nations and World Cup in 'our best ever position' after a record-breaking 2018.

Joe Schmidt's men enjoyed a historic calendar year, winning a Six Nations Grand Slam, a test series in Australia before beating the All Blacks on home soil for the first time ever.

Now thoughts turn to 2019, as the countdown to the World Cup in Japan begins. Ireland are currently second favourites to lift the trophy - even though an Irish team has never progressed past the quarter-final.

Expectations are high that Joe Schmidt can go out as Ireland coach on a high and deliver success at the World Cup, but there is the small matter of a Six Nations title defence before that.

Ireland start their campaign with a blockbuster clash against England at the Aviva Stadium on February 2 and Fitzgerald tinks that Ireland are in a very strong position as we begin 2019.

"We'll go into it in our best ever position," Fitzgerald said.

"There is still a huge amount of rugby to be played. The Six Nations will be extremely difficult. It will be a pretty good litmus test. If you look at the most successful teams, they have had a strong lead-in [to the World Cup]. This [the Six Nations] will be the last bit of learning in a real pressure environment.

"The squad has got an awful lot deeper but we still need some key guys to come through and be fit."

While the Irish team has never had as strong a squad as they currently do, expectations have sky-rocketed after their stellar 2018. However, Fitzgerald thinks that Joe Schmidt will be able to keep the players focused, while he would also like to see the Ireland coach test his strength in depth during the Six Nations.

"It will be good to come in having won a Six Nations," Fitzgerald added.

"While the expectations will be really high, I don't think it will weigh on them. Joe is really good at getting a team focused and delivering on the plan each and every week. The Six Nations gives him five more opportunities to do that in high pressure environments and that will stand to the team."

"I would like to see more variation in terms of selection.

"I'd like to see a bit of depth, I'd like to see Joey Carbery or Ross Byrne play that ten role in the Six Nations."

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