01 February, 2011

Six Nations Preview: Ageing IRELAND may provide last hurrah:

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In form Seán O'Brien: an old school back row; started out a builder
Ireland's recent form has been patchy. Only two wins in the past seven outings but back at their rebuilt home: the Aviva Stadium for the Six Nations, we should once again see the best of a Declan Kidney side that could well break up after the World Cup. They have lost only two Six Nations games in two years and who can forget the 2009 grand slam?
PROSPECTS This year have been flying below the radar, which is the way Ireland like it. Badly hit by injuries — not least to Stephen Ferris and Jamie Heaslip — but Paul O’Connell is back for the first time in a year. Fixtures fall in Ireland's favour and a championship decider against England in the final game beckons. 2003 all over again?
Quietly confident:  Legend BRIAN O'DRISCOLL
PLAYER TO WATCH Seán O’Brien Ireland may struggle in the front row but there is a back-row talent factory somewhere outside Dublin and Leinster’s O’Brien is the latest product. A rampaging old-school operator who started life as a builder.
EXPERT VERDICT Brian O’Driscoll: “We’re quietly confident that if we get our game together, we’ll be in the hunt in some capacity. We’re just plodding along like we always do, working hard.”
KILLER STAT The number of caps in the starting XV of Ireland’s last championship game totalled an astonishing 649. Ireland have three centurions still playing — Brian O’Driscoll (107), John Hayes (104) and Ronan O’Gara (103).
Ireland's spectaculor new AVIVA Stadium
TEAM TO PLAY ITALY L Fitzgerald; F McFadden, B O’Driscoll (capt), G D’Arcy, K Earls; J Sexton, T O’Leary; C Healy, R Best, M Ross, D O’Callaghan, P O’Connell, D Leamy, D Wallace, S O’Brien. Replacements: S Cronin, T Court, L Cullen, S Jennings, E Reddan, R O’Gara, P Wallace.
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