LET’S TALK ABOUT SIX: THE NA­TIONS THAT AWAIT

With Rob­bie Hen­shaw hav­ing run the rule over Scot­land and Wales in our main Rugby Spe­cial in­ter­view, David Lynch anal­y­ses the cur­rent form of Ire­land's other Six Na­tion ri­vals.

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Now un­der the lead­er­ship of Ir­ish­man Conor O’Shea, the Ital­ians have tra­di­tion­ally been viewed as Six Na­tions whip­ping boys, but they al­ways pos­sess the abil­ity to pull off a shock – and Ire­land will have to pro­ceed with cau­tion when they ar­rive in Rome’s Sta­dio Olimpico on Fe­bru­ary 11. O’Shea has said his short-term aim is to make the Az­zuri more com­pet­i­tive and there were some en­cour­ag­ing signs dur­ing their au­tumn cam­paign. Although they suf­fered a 68-10 trounc­ing against the All Blacks and a em­barass­ing two-point re­ver­sal to Tonga, the Ital­ians’ land­mark first vic­tory over South Africa will no doubt be enough to keep Joe Sch­midt’s charges on their toes.

FRANCE

Head­ing into last year’s Six Na­tions, Ire­land had a for­mi­da­ble re­cent record against France, but ul­ti­mately had to en­dure their first de­feat against Les Bleus in nearly five years. With home ad­van­tage in the Fe­bru­ary 25 clash, Ire­land will fancy their chances, but France showed im­pres­sive form to­wards the end of 2016. Camille Lopez ex­celled as the team dis­man­tled Samoa and nar­rowly lost out to the All Blacks. Although they have lost tal­is­man Wes­ley Fo­fana for the du­ra­tion of the tour­na­ment due to an Achilles’ in­jury, if Guy Noves’ charges main­tain their re­cent strong level of per­for­mance at the Aviva, Ire­land could be in for a huge bat­tle.

ENG­LAND

The March 18 Aviva clash with Eng­land is be­ing talked of in some quar­ters as a pos­si­ble Grand Slam de­cider. It’s shap­ing up to be a mighty chal­lenge for Ire­land, as Eddie Jones’ boys were the form team in world rugby through­out 2016. In­deed, they now stand just four vic­to­ries away from set­ting the world record for con­sec­u­tive wins in in­ter­na­tional rugby, although they will be shorn of star man Billy Vu­nipola. But with Joe Sch­midt’s boys on a high fol­low­ing an im­pres­sive au­tumn cam­paign – in­clud­ing that land­mark win over New Zealand – they’ll be itch­ing for a shot at the old enemy.

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