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Our writers give their predictions for the Six Nations

What way do you see the tournament unfolding?

Murray Kinsella

1. Are you looking forward to the Six Nations or still suffering from a RWC hangover?
It’s the most wonderful time of the rugby year, with schools rugby in full flow, Super Rugby around the corner now and, most importantly, the Six Nations getting under way. I love this competition.

2. Pick one pivotal game in the championship?
I think we’re likely to have several teams finishing on an equal number of wins again, so I reckon the winning margins in Ireland v Wales and England v Ireland will be key. I think Ireland will lose the latter fixture, so I’ll go for that as the one pivotal game.

3. Optimistic or pessimistic about Ireland’s chances?
Despite the World Cup quarter-final exit, they still have an excellent coach and a strong squad. The loss of Paul O’Connell is a major concern, however. I’m somewhere in between.

Paul O'Connell. Source: PA Wire/Press Association Images

4. Name one player you’re looking forward to seeing in action?
From an Irish perspective, I hope to see Stuart McCloskey get his opportunity. Elsewhere, Virimi Vakatawa from France is a fascinating one after his excellence on the sevens circuit.

5. Finally, will Ireland do three-in-a-row or will their reign as champions end?
I think their reign will come to an end. I would back Wales to win the championship.

Sean Farrell

1. Are you looking forward to the Six Nations or still suffering from a RWC hangover?
You know what, both. The World Cup was the best tournament we’ve ever seen with unbelievable skill levels, excitement and storylines. With the exception of Connacht in general and Ulster in Toulouse mode, almost everything the professional club game has served up in the intervening four months has been utterly bleak by comparison. So, yeah, hungover, but carbing up, brushing my teeth and ready for that sweet, sweet hair of the dog.

2. Pick one pivotal game in the championship?
You’re looking at it: Ireland v Wales. The season is dictated by how the reigning champs perform against a team who just love to upset them. Lose, and we start to worry how Ireland will manage against even heavier packs in Paris and London. Win, and we’re still talking about three-in-a-row. Wales’ other big trip will be essential viewing too, but we have to wait until March to see them back in Twickenham.

3. Optimistic or pessimistic about Ireland’s chances?
The single biggest concern I have is the second row and the sheer heft that Ireland lose when working without Paul O’Connell and Iain Henderson. Yet the more I think about how unlikely Ireland are to win (either on Sunday or the Championship as a whole), the more I think Joe has something big up his sleeve. Known unknowns aside, I’m confident that most of the individuals and (if wee see them) new faces will acquit themselves very well, but melding it all together is another story.

4. Name one player you’re looking forward to seeing in action?
He played in the World Cup, but I just can’t get enough of Scotland’s John Hardie. Wales will keep their natural 7 Justin Tipuric behind Sam Warburton, but Hardie’s breakdown nous and intensely accurate carrying are central to Vern Cotter’s game-plan and it’d be nice to see that kind of ethos rewarded in this tournament.
(Also, Stu McCloskey, but I fear he’ll be behind Henshaw in a tried and tested Ireland XV).

WCup Italy Squad John Hardie. Source: Massimo Pinca

5. Finally, will Ireland do three-in-a-row or will their reign as champions end?
Ultimately, the three-in-a-row will remain an unaccomplished feat of the Four, Five and Six Nations. The resurgence of England, France and Scotland will make this an incredibly difficult tournament to climb to the top of, and I fear Ireland will fall more than once. 

Niall Kelly

1. Are you looking forward to the Six Nations or still suffering from a RWC hangover?
The Champions Cup has done absolutely nothing to lift the cloud over Irish rugby so any possible respite is to be welcomed with open arms. Of course, if Wales come to Dublin and dish out a hiding this weekend, the World Cup hangover — and possibly an actual hangover — will be back for many by Monday morning.

2. Pick one pivotal game in the championship?
Without resorting to the banal cliche that the next game is always the most important, I think Sunday’s game will be the definitive one for Ireland’s campaign. This bulk of this Welsh side have been together for a long time under Warren Gatland, and are rightly being hyped up as big championship contenders. Win and Ireland can head to Paris with three-in-a-row on their mind; lose and, with two tough away trips still to come, expectations will be downgraded immediately.

3. Optimistic or pessimistic about Ireland’s chances?
Weirdly optimistic, despite the multitude of injuries which will be the biggest obstacle to retaining the title. There’s lots of talk of an overhaul in style and potentially blooding some new faces, all with one-and-a-half eyes on an improved performance at the next World Cup. But the IRFU bigwigs still see the Six Nations as a fundamental priority and over the last two seasons, Joe Schmidt’s coaching nous and tactical mission has been perfectly capable of leading this group of players that far. The injuries aside, there’s no reason to think that will change radically.

4. Name one player you’re looking forward to seeing in action?
There is a lot of buzz coming out of a France about Jonathan Danty, and after lighting up the Top 14 with Stade Francais, it will be very interesting to see how the uncapped centre makes the transition to international rugby.

Jonathan Danty Jonathan Danty. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

5. Finally, will Ireland do three-in-a-row or will their reign as champions end?
It’ll be tight. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see another final day shootout with points difference coming into the mix again … in fact, I’d quite enjoy that.

Ryan Bailey

1. Are you looking forward to the Six Nations or still suffering from a RWC hangover?
There are so many intriguing elements to this year’s Championships. How Ireland fare in their first outings since the World Cup is of primary interest but the performances of England and France under new coaches will be equally fascinating.

2. Pick one pivotal game in the championship?
Nothing will be decided on the opening weekend but the first game of Ireland’s campaign will ultimately set the tone for what is to follow.

3. Optimistic or pessimistic about Ireland’s chances?
Apart from the loss of Paul O’Connell, I don’t think a lot has changed since the World Cup. Joe Schmidt is still at the helm and although the provinces have endured a largely difficult season, Ireland’s squad is still brimming with quality.

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Joe Schmidt Joe Schmidt. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

4. Name one player you’re looking forward to seeing in action?
Based on his energetic and dynamic displays for Leinster this season, I’d love to see Josh van der Flier in a green jersey. He’ll do well to force his way into Joe Schmidt’s XV, however, so France centre Jonathan Danty is one player I’ll be keeping a particular eye on. The explosive Stade Francais back is an exciting prospect.

5. Finally, will Ireland do three-in-a-row or will  their reign as champions end?
Winning three successive titles in any sport is a huge achievement and it’s not beyond Ireland but something tells me it could be France’s year under Guy Noves. They’re hugely unpredictable but when they’re on song, they’re on song.

Alan Waldron

1. Are you looking forward to the Six Nations or still suffering from a RWC hangover?
I can’t wait for the Six Nations. The relatively level playing field has made it such a fascinating tournament in recent years. Final-day deciders; it’s hard to beat the drama of the tournament. There’s a pessimism around Irish rugby at the moment and this competition is the ideal opportunity to put that to bed — it wasn’t so long ago that Ireland had put France away in their final World Cup pool game and the nation felt its rugby team were genuine cup contenders.

2. Pick one pivotal game in the championship?
It would be foolish to look beyond Ireland v Wales tomorrow. If Ireland can win, and that’s a massive if, I’d fancy them to win the tournament, possibly on points difference, with home games against Italy and Scotland to finish off their campaign. I’d be very surprised if there was a Grand Slam winner in 2016.

3. Optimistic or pessimistic about Ireland’s chances?
In Joe we trust. His record speaks for itself. With Schmidt at the helm I remain optimistic, although, as the World Cup proved, if Ireland lose a couple of key players to injury or suspension, they don’t have the depth to cope against decent opposition.

4. Name one player you’re looking forward to seeing in action?
Dylan Hartley. Seeing him operate as an international captain will be fascinating. There’s no doubting his ability but he has a lot of work to do if he wants to start repairing his bad-boy reputation. And he will be under the spotlight more than ever. There’s a fine line between genius and insanity; who knows, Eddie Jones’s decision could prove a master-stroke.

Source: David Davies

5. Finally, will Ireland do three-in-a-row or will their reign as champions end?
I hope I’m wrong but I think it’s Wales’ year. That’s where the smart money is.

Paul Fennessy

1. Are you looking forward to the Six Nations or still suffering from a RWC hangover?
Like every Irish player would presumably say, I’ve tried to banish the World Cup from my memory and am just focusing on the games ahead. Moreover, none of the Six Nations sides performed particularly well at the World Cup, so there’s plenty of scope for optimism from an Irish perspective.

2. Pick one pivotal game in the championship?
Again, looking at the tournament with green-tinted glasses, Ireland v France appears crucial. If Joe Schmidt’s side win there, it could give Irish rugby a much-needed confidence boost and inspire them to push on and secure the historic three-in-a-row.

3. Optimistic or pessimistic about Ireland’s chances?
More so pessimistic, given that the provinces haven’t exactly set the world alight lately, coupled with the World Cup disappointment. That said, under Joe Schmidt in particular, Ireland have shown a level of resilience and ability to produce a big performance when they have been all but written off in many quarters.

4. Name one player you’re looking forward to seeing in action?
It feels like Ireland are in need of a breath of fresh air and some youthful reinvigoration, and Stuart McCloskey might just be the man to provide it.

Stuart McCloskey Stuart McCloskey. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

5. Finally, will Ireland do three-in-a-row or will their reign as champions end?
With trips to England and France ahead, my gut instinct says no. The former in particular will be desperate to make up for their World Cup disappointment, and if Eddie Jones can turn Japan into a force to be reckoned with, surely he can do the same with the English.

Ben Blake

1. Are you looking forward to the Six Nations or still suffering from a RWC hangover?
Very much the former. As disappointing as Ireland’s World Cup exit was, the Six Nations presents the perfect opportunity for the team to put that behind them and focus their attentions on challenging for a third consecutive title.

2. Pick one pivotal game in the championship?
In similar fashion to last year’s drama on the final day, the tournament could very well be hanging in the balance going into the last set of fixtures on 19 March. If Ireland have managed to keep themselves in the mix, then the clash with Scotland at the Aviva Stadium has the potential to be massive before France face England later that night.

3. Optimistic or pessimistic about Ireland’s chances?

More hopeful than optimistic. Aside from one hugely-significant international retirement and injuries to Tommy Bowe and Luke Fitzgerald, Joe Schmidt still has a talented squad at his disposal.

4. Name one player you’re looking forward to seeing in action?
There seems to be an awful lot of hype around 21-year-old England forward Maro Itoje, so it will be interesting to see how the Saracens lock fares if given the chance. Eddie Jones has said Itoje will need time, but he could be another string to England’s bow.

2016 Six Nations Package Maro Itoje. Source: Paul Harding

5. Finally, will Ireland do three-in-a-row or will their reign as champions end?
My heart is backing an Irish triumph, but the head disagrees.

Jackie Cahill

1. Are you looking forward to the Six Nations or still suffering from a RWC hangover?
Looking forward to it, it’s a chance for Ireland to right some of the wrongs from the RWC.
2. Pick one pivotal game in the championship?
Ireland’s opener against Wales.
3. Optimistic or pessimistic about Ireland’s chances?
Optimistic.
4. Name one player you’re looking forward to seeing in action?
Sean O’Brien.

Sean O'Brien. Source: David Davies

5. Finally, will Ireland do three-in-a-row or will their reign as champions end?
New champions on the horizon.

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