Ireland’s list of injured players is growing by the day, and now includes prop John Hayes, No 8 Jamie Heaslip and winger Shane Horgan, who are all set to be out for at least the first game, while winger Andrew Trimble and full-backs Rob Kearney and Geordan Murphy are set to be out for the championship, writes Bea Asprey. Head coach Declan Kidney is still waiting for the results of a scan on winger Tommy Bowe’s knee, but captain Brian O’Driscoll is still confident that his side can be competitive in the forthcoming RBS 6 Nations Championship.
“We won two and lost two in the autumn, but we’re quietly confident that if we get our game right we’ll be in the hunt in some capacity,” said O’Driscoll.
Ireland travel to Rome, Edinburgh and Cardiff this year, and host France and England at the new Aviva Stadium, but O’Driscoll knows Ireland can’t rely on home advantage to produce the results for them, and says it’s easy to fall at every hurdle.
“We have a preference for playing the stronger sides at home,” continued O’Driscoll. “But last year we managed to lose to Scotland at Croke Park, and we know going to Murrayfield won’t be an easy game. Two years ago we only beat Wales with a kick being a bit short, and that’s what makes this such a great tournament. Getting five wins in a row is tough, it took us 61 years to do it.”
O’Driscoll himself is about to embark on his 12th Six Nations tournament, but says he’s enjoying his rugby as much as ever thanks to a new level of pressure within the squad.
“I’ve stopped putting time constraints on myself, but as long as my body and my mind still feel good I’ll continue to play,” said O’Driscoll. “There’s certainly as much hunger and desire, if not more, than ever before, and I’m really looking forward to the Six Nations.
“There’s new guys coming through the ranks now at provincial level, and they’re putting pressure on my every performance, and that’s something I’m really enjoying this year.”
The increased competition at provincial level hasn’t escaped Kidney, who is delighted that Ulster have reached the quarter finals of the Heineken Cup, alongside Leinster, while Munster will continue to compete in Europe in the Amlin Challenge Cup competition.
“Leinster and Ulster have done very well and Munster missed out on qualifying by one point. All four teams got a bonus point in the final European round which is important, because winning is a habit.”
Although Ireland will be strong favourites to beat Italy in their first round match, Kidney says they cannot be underestimated. “Treviso has enjoyed great form at home in the Magners League,” he continued. “Previously you’d expect to be fitter than Italy, and that would especially show in the final 10 minutes of a game, but that advantage has now gone, and everyone will be looking to get a bit of momentum from their first game.”
O’Driscoll said his team-mates were relishing the thought of an opening Test match at the Stadio Flaminio: “In Italy you more often than not get good conditions, and the players enjoy the great atmosphere in the stadium. I can certainly think of worse places to play a Test match than in Rome,” he said.