Planet Rugby

State of the Nation: Ireland

19th March 2014 14:00

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Ireland Six Nations celeb 2014

Champions: Ireland

As we do at the conclusion of a major tournament, we look at the state of affairs in each of the competing nations. Last up, we assess Ireland!

If only Brian O'Driscoll was 25, not 35. The BOD era ends after 141 international caps (including the Lions) as the centre bows out in style. The Leinsterman couldn't have asked for a better finish after deciding to carry on for one final Championship and Ireland did not disappoint.

Now comes the part of bedding in a couple of options at number thirteen during June and November so they are well stocked for the World Cup. Names that spring to mind are Robbie Henshaw and Darren Cave, but there is more than a feeling that Jared Payne will be the man.

This Six Nations triumph has not been about one man though, far from it, as the whole squad has played its part. Critical players such as Cian Healy and Mike Ross are now ably backed up by Jack McGrath and Martin Moore, which is a front-row luxury this team hasn't had for a long time.

Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton are developing into a world class half-back pairing while Rob Kearney, Andrew Trimble and Dave Kearney were also reassuringly solid at the back. Furthermore, one can't understate the importance of Paul O'Connell returning to fitness.

There was a healthy blend to their play as Schmidt's Leinster style came to the fore - this did not please everyone though as former Munster number eight Denis Leamy highlighted the seventeen to four split between those two provinces in the squad, highlighting the absence of Tommy O'Donnell and Simon Zebo as calls that irked him. Of course coach Schmidt can't please everyone but Paddy Jackson's absence in Paris was one decision that surprised.

Ireland fans will not be concerned with negative talk at the current time however as they soak up a special triumph that climaxed over the St Patrick's Day weekend. But once the Guinness has settled and enjoyment turns to preparation, all eyes then switch to facing Argentina in intriguing away fixtures on June 7 and 14. Those games could well see McGrath, Moore, Jackson, Henshaw, Dan Tuohy and possibly Robbie Diack blooded, the latter deserving of his opportunity after consistent form at Ulster. What's good for Schmidt is that he is blessed with real depth in personnel, many of which we've not even mentioned.

He will be closely monitoring the RaboDirect PRO12 run-in, with that league table currently reading 1) Leinster, 2) Munster, 3) Ulster while upcoming Heineken Cup quarter-finals also feature that trio. Add those positives to a Six Nations triumph and it's a great time to be Irish.

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