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Dublin: 7 °C Monday 18 February, 2019

Gatty's Grand Slam glee? Your ridiculously early Six Nations predictions

Stranger things have happened.

THE DEFINING TOURNAMENT of (the first half of) the year is coming down the tracks just as quick as February is.

With the World Cup in view, everyone is keen to make an impression and gain some momentum on the road to Japan. But, as ever, there is pride, points and a trophy to play for.

Here’s a little of what we expect to unfold before St Patrick’s Day rolls around again.

Ireland will beat England on opening weekend

The good times will keep on rolling through week one for Irish rugby. Joe Schmidt’s looming exit will be made to feel unimportant as his reigning champions hit the ground running with a tight win – probably Peter O’Mahony-inspired as usual – over the Old Enemy.

Before anyone mentions that hoary old ‘broken chariot’ gag like it’s their own brand new comedy special, Eddie Jones will be calling for rule changes and damning the press for any criticism sent his way being critical of him for backing up his two Six Nations titles with four wins out of 12 Tests.

With his son’s attacking structure smothered, Andy Farrell’s stock will rise and rise while sponsors try and prevent England losing interest in ‘Rugby’s Greatest Championship’. 

Ross Byrne will play more Six Nations minutes than Joey Carbery

Jonathan Sexton remains Ireland’s most important player and he worked extremely hard to make himself available for almost every minute of last year’s Grand Slam. There will come a time when Ireland need to play another out-half, either by choice to blood them for another squad-testing World Cup, or because of injury for Sexton.

Carbery is clearly Schmidt’s back-up 10 of choice, but the Munster playmaker must have been cursing his versatility in November. Given a rare shot at steering the team from out-half, an injury to Darren Sweetnam necessitated Carbery to switch to fullback.

Having been nudged out of Leinster due to Ross Byrne’s steady and inescapable shadow, the former St Michael’s kid was present again and didn’t pass up the chance when offered a turn at the wheel for Ireland.

The plan is to build some Test minutes into Carbery before the World Cup rolls around, but tournaments have a habit of ripping up clever plans and it’s easy to see a scenario when Schmidt must turn to the always-impressive Byrne.

Warren Gatland will ruin Ireland’s Grand Slam bid on his Millennium Stadium farewell

Gatty’s 12th and final Six Nations campaign in charge of Wales will come to an end in Cardiff, against Ireland. And it’s going to be intense.

We’ll wonder aloud whether the roof will be open or closed, we’ll ‘tssk’ the former Ireland and Connacht coach for lobbing cheeky trademark ‘grenades’ Ireland’s way and we’ll discuss whether Warrenball is enough in modern rugby or if Wales play Warrenball at all.

None of it will really matter, because the penultimate act of the Championship will be an absolute barn-burner at the Principality Stadium.

We have to expect Ireland will be gunning for another title and world number one ranking, but with ourselves and England due to visit Cardiff, Gatland has an excellent opportunity claim his fourth Championship.

If he can also claim wins in Paris, Rome and Edinburgh it will be a chance for Gatland to claim a third Grand Slam with a raucous, bawdy win over his former employers.

Signing off like that might just make it the sweetest one of all for Gatland.

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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