Date published: January 25 2012

Colours: Green and white
Honours: Six Nations Grand Slam (2009), Five Nations Grand Slam (1948), Six Nations winners (Once), Five Nations winners (Six outright, five shared), Four Nations (four times, three shared).

Coach: Softly-spoken Declan Kidney took over the Ireland reins after a disastrous 2007 Rugby World Cup, which saw the country fail to make the knockout stages, followed by further Six Nations woe under Eddie O'Sullivan. The latter had to go and announced his resignation in March 2008 after winning three Triple Crowns in his seven-year tenure. His successor has a knack of winning big trophies, however, and Kidney's record with Munster has transferred to Ireland as they claimed the Grand Slam in 2009. Last year's championship saw them finish in defeat at home to Scotland, hinting that it might be time for Kidney to go with the youth.

Captain: Star centre Brian O'Driscoll was appointed to lead Ireland after the retirement of legendary hooker Keith Wood following the 2003 RWC. Probably the best backline player in world rugby, 'BOD' has shown before that captaincy brings out the best in his play, which could only be a good thing for Irish rugby. He was also British & Irish Lions captain on the 2005 tour to New Zealand, and the serious shoulder injury he suffered has not hampered his form since. South Africa in 2009 saw that. Still the darling of Irish rugby.

Player to watch: The back row has been a strong area for Ireland in recent seasons and the next one off the conveyor belt is someone to watch. Sean O'Brien has been doing the business for Leinster and has been backed in many corners to start for his country this Six Nations. Whether he can usurp David Wallace is difficult to say but on form, O'Brien has to start.

Profile: Despite having relatively low playing numbers, Irish rugby has a long and proud rugby tradition and, interestingly, is one of the few sports which unites northern and southern Ireland with the national team selected from players on both sides of the border.

But they have earned the tag of perennial underachievers, with pre-season optimism frequently ending in disappointment – as happened during the 1999 World Cup when the team failed to make it to the quarter-finals after losing to Argentina.

In subsequent years Ireland's strength in depth improved markedly and the presence of O'Driscoll ensured that interest amongst the young escalated.

The traditional forward-based game employed by the team gave way to a far more exciting, 15-man approach, a style mirrored by Ireland's leading provinces, Munster, Leinster and Ulster, ensuring that the national team slowly climbed their way up the world rankings.

The progress reaped dividends in 2004 when the greens secured the Triple Crown – their second since 1949 – punctuating England's 22-match winning streak at Twickenham in the process.

2007 dawned bright for Irish rugby supporters, their souls fed by years of consistent improvement, and the announcement in March that the IRFU was setting up a 'High Performance Select Group' to nurture the best young talent enforced the belief that that trend is set to continue.

Again the national side were favourites for the Six Nations, but those hopes seemed over after a loss to France at Croke Park in what was widely regarded as one of the best rugby matches of recent years. However, when France subsequently lost to England, the competition was thrown open and England, Ireland and France all went into the final weekend with a chance of lifting the trophy. Ireland thrashed Italy to give themselves an excellent chance, but a last-minute try by France in their win over Scotland ensured that France took the silverware due to a superior points difference.

However, Ireland's defeat of England did secure their second consecutive Triple Crown, which was their third in four years, giving Irish fans the belief that they had the potential for a semi-final berth in the 2007 World Cup. A terrible tournament then followed with poor performances against all in their pool.

Enter Kidney for the outgoing O'Sullivan and Ireland secured a Grand Slam in 2009 and were looking strong again the following year. However, defeats to Scotland and before that eventual winners France saw them finish second, four points off Les Bleus.