How much pressure is on Ireland heading in to another Six Nations as arguably the current best team in world rugby?
In the pre-Schmit era, Ireland were always branded the underdog against most of the tier one teams. Since the introduction of the Six Nations back in 2000, it took Ireland 9 years to win the tournament and to make it more sweeter, their first Grand Slam since 1948. Moreover, it took seven more years to finally beat the All Blacks in 2016 after 128 years of failed attempts. The victory somewhat plastered over the pain of what happened in the Aviva stadium back in 2013. But with more victories, comes higher expectations from fans. These expectations were met this year with a Grand Slam, winning the Australia summer test series and sending the All Blacks down under without a try, win and arguably the title of best team in the world.
So with a new year, comes new expectations for Irish Rugby. Joe Schmit, being the professional that he is, will be focusing on the first game of the six nations against England. In fact, derailing the chariot in Dublin is on a lot of Irish fans wish lists. However, as sweet as the taste of victory is against the old enemy, that won’t be the game-deciding match of the championship. As we have seen in 2015 and 2017, the Millennium Stadium has been a pitfall for Ireland on their journey to championship glory, no matter what form Wales are in. There is also the possibility of Scotland springing another surprise in Murrayfield and it’s not uncommon for the French to turn up and spoil a party. And for Italy? Meh. Although Ireland may be favourites to win the tournament, it’s important to remember what happened to the favourites last year. England went from losing only one game in two seasons, the loss occurred in Dublin at the end of the 2017 Six Nations, to losing five in a row in the 2018. Three of those losses came in the Six Nations.
Personally, in this world cup year, I don’t think here is a huge amount of pressure on Ireland to win the Six Nations. Sure it would be nice if Schmit could get another Grand Slam before his departure and Ireland to cement it’s status as number one team in the northern hemisphere, if not world rugby. On the other hand, it’s easy to overlook the Six Nations as an Irish fan when there is a World Cup in the same year. Going back to 2015, it looked like Ireland’s path to the RWC semi-final was smooth, well as smooth as it can be. With France being the only real challenger in the group stages and Argentina, who Ireland had beaten four times since the 2011 world cup, being the obvious opponent in the quarter-finals, Ireland’s journey to the semi-final seemed quite clear-cut. However, with injuries to key players, including the current world player of the year, and Argentina developing a wide-expansive game plan throughout the world cup that actually worked, disaster struck. Joe Schmidt’s men did not reach the expectations of not only Irish fans, but spectators from across the globe. Ireland were once again seen as the team that were so near, yet so far.
This is where I believe the pressure will come on from the Irish Fans. As much as we appreciate the sheer brilliance and commitment it takes to win a Six Nations tournament, this would only be the cherry on top. The cake is a semi-final place in the world cup and to do what no other Irish rugby team has done. Joe Schmidt’s has already added two six nations, one grand slam and the scalps of all the top 10 tier one nations to his trophy cabinet.
Although another grand slam sounds nice, it is the elusive Webb Ellis trophy that Schmidt and all Irish fans want to bring home.
Written By James O’Connor – 25/01/19