RBS Six Nations 2014 - Ireland preview
A confident Ireland will have their work cut out for them if they want to triumph in the 2014 Six Nations.
Last Updated: 30/01/14 11:36pm
The Irish have been dogged by inconsistency since their Grand Slam-winning year of 2009, something Schmidt witnessed first-hand during the autumn internationals. Just eight days after they were taken to the cleaners by Australia, Ireland came within seconds of beating New Zealand for the first time in their history.
Irish fans will hope it's the latter performance that's replicated against Scotland in their Six Nations opener. With the Welsh arriving in Dublin the following weekend, Ireland need to hit the ground running.
The form of Jonny Sexton will be key. The fly-half's move to Racing Metro has not gone as well as he'd have hoped, with the Paris side already out of Europe and languishing in mid-table in the Top 14. Sexton has already played as many club games as he did in the whole of last season and his physical well-being is a concern for Schmidt.
The return of Rory Best and Cian Healy from injury bolsters Ireland's pack, while young tighthead Martin Moore and Jordi Murphy have impressed for Leinster, but the loss of Sean O'Brien to a dislocated shoulder is a mammoth blow.
If Ireland can see off Scotland and Wales in Dublin it sets up a mouth-watering trip to Twickenham in round three, a venue where they suffered a 30-9 hiding in 2012.
Ireland should exact revenge against Italy before concluding their campaign in France, where they have tasted victory just once since 1972. That came in 2000, when a young upstart called Brian O'Driscoll announced his arrival on the international stage with a stunning hat-trick.
Can O'Driscoll repeat that feat and lead Ireland to victory in his final international game? It would be quite the send-off.
Last season: 5th
Head coach: Joe Schmidt: "If this is his [Brian O'Driscoll's] last Six Nations he'll want to make it a memorable one, as well as the players around him who have played with him for years and respect him immensely. We have a lot of respect for what Brian has brought over a number of years and we're desperate that he'll bring it this year and other people support him and we can have success for his last five games, if that what it is to be."
Captain: Paul O'Connell: "Most of the Irish players from the Lions are feeling strong and ready for the tournament."
Ground: Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Sky Bet odds: 11/2
Fixtures: Feb 2 v Scotland (h), Feb 8 v Wales (h), Feb 22 v England (a), Mar 8 v Italy (h), Mar 15 v France (a)
Forwards (24): Rodney Ah You (Connacht), Stephen Archer (Munster), Rory Best (Ulster), Robin Copeland (Cardiff Blues), Sean Cronin (Leinster), Robbie Diack (Ulster), Cian Healy (Leinster), Jamie Heaslip (Leinster), Iain Henderson, (Ulster), Chris Henry (Ulster), Rob Herring (Ulster), David Kilcoyne (Munster), Mike McCarthy (Leinster), Jack McGrath (Leinster), Martin Moore (Leinster), Jordi Murphy (Leinster), Paul O'Connell (Munster), Tommy O'Donnell (Munster), Peter O'Mahony (Munster), Mike Ross (Leinster), Rhys Ruddock (Leinster), Devin Toner (Leinster), Dan Tuohy (Ulster), Damian Varley (Munster).
Backs (20): Isaac Boss (Leinster), Darren Cave (Ulster), Gordon D'Arcy (Leinster), Keith Earls (Munster), Luke Fitzgerald (Leinster), Robbie Henshaw (Connacht), Paddy Jackson (Ulster), Felix Jones (Munster), David Kearney (Leinster), Rob Kearney (Leinster), Ian Keatley (Munster), Ian Madigan (Leinster), Kieran Marmion (Connacht), Luke Marshall (Ulster), Fergus McFadden (Leinster), Conor Murray (Munster), Brian O'Driscoll (Leinster), Eoin Reddan (Leinster), Jonathan Sexton (Racing Metro 92), Andrew Trimble (Ulster).