Since taking over in 2013, New Zealander Schmidt has made himself into somewhat of a Six Nations specialist, leading Ireland to the title in 2014 and again last year. Despite Ireland’s disappointing showing at the World Cup he hasn’t endured any speculation about his job and it is clear that the IRFU feel he is the right man to lead the team forward. After winning two Heineken Cups, a Pro12 and a Challenge Cup in his time as Leinster coach he certainly has the CV to back up that assertion. Schmidt now has a new task on his hand to bring an emerging team with some impressive young talent on to the next level.
Ireland go into the championship looking to become the first team in history to win the title three years in a row outright. This is a team that knows how to win a Six Nations and the real strength lies in the fact that Schmidt is becoming somewhat of a specialist in doing just that. As always there will be quite a reliance on the world-class kicking ability of Johnny Sexton. As one of the shining lights of the disappointing World Cup campaign, and now that his future has been sorted out, it will be hoped that Keith Earls can demonstrate the scoring ability that made him Ireland’s leading World Cup try-scorer last October. New captain Rory Best will also be key and, if he can continue the form he showed in the World Cup and has since shown for Ulster, then Ireland will be in good hands.
Injuries look set to play a big part in Ireland’s assault on another Six Nations title with Tommy Bowe, Iain Henderson, Luke Fitzgerald and Peter O’Mahony all certain to miss the entire campaign. Mike Ross, Cian Healy and Chris Henry are expected to return mid-way through but will miss the crucial opening two games against Wales and France. Responsibility will fall on the shoulders of a number of inexperienced players such as CJ Stander, Josh van der Flier and Stuart McCloskey and it will be interesting to see how they cope.