Ireland

World Ranking: 6 Prediction: 2nd

THE INSIDE VIEW

PETER STRINGER

Age: 27 Position: Scrum-half Club: Munster Debut: 19/02/2000 v Scotland Caps: 51 Tries: 4

What is your first memory of the Five Nations as a boy? When Ireland did the Triple Crown in 1985. That was my first real memory of a successful Irish team and I still associate great Irish teams with that one.

What is your abiding memory of your Six Nations debut?

Lining up for the national anthem in front of 49,000 people. It was a very surreal moment and the emotion was so high you almost forgot you had a rugby match to play.

What has been your best moment in the Six Nations? There have been so many, but the most satisfying was beating the world champions, England, at Twickenham last year. We gave everything and got the result.

And the worst? The 2003 Six Nations Grand Slam decider at Lansdowne Road. England outplayed us and deserved to win but it was very disappointing.

What do you need to improve?

We have come a long way but I think the next stage is to become more consistent. Then we can really go on to win something.

What are your country's prospects for the forthcoming tournament? We think we can win it.

If you don't win it, who will?

England and France are probably the strongest teams but Wales have put in some massive performances this year as well.

Which young player will catch the eye this year? The Munster flanker Denis Leamy is a young guy who made his international debut in November. He is only 22 and I can see him wearing the Irish shirt for a very long time .

Who is the hardest hitter in the world right now? The South African flanker Schalk Burger.

And the best player? Carlos Spencer, the All Black fly-half. He always does the unexpected and that is really what you want to see in rugby because it makes it exciting.

Will a Grand Slam be completed this season? I really cannot see anyone walking away with it.

CULTURE CORNER

What is your favourite...

Book? McCarthy's Bar; a record of a trip around Ireland by Pete McCarthy.

Film? The Shawshank Redemption.

Band? Paddy Casey.

TV programme? Phoenix Nights with Peter Kay (right).

2 KEY QUESTIONS

1Are they good enough up front? Leinster, perennial favourites for the Heineken Cup and perennial underachievers, travelled to an injury-hit Bath last month with Reggie Corrigan, Shane Byrne, Malcolm O'Kelly, Eric Miller and Victor Costello among their forward number. With the honourable exception of O'Kelly, they were minced alive. The addition of hardened Munster types like Paul O'Connell and Anthony Foley will give the Irish pack some grunt, but they remain vulnerable to heavyweight opposition.

2Can they seize the day? One Grand Slam, recorded in 1948 - the year of Eamon de Valera's historic defeat at the polls - is no great return for almost a century of exhausting work at the coalface of international rugby, and the last time the Irish were in clean-sweep territory, in 2003, they fell apart against England in Dublin, allowing Clive Woodward's charges to romp home 42-6 and take their first Grand Slam since 1995. Expectation does Ireland few favours; indeed, they deliver only when anticipation is low. As both France and England must visit Lansdowne Road this year, the boot is on the wrong foot as far as the Irish psyche is concerned.

HIGHS AND LOWS

GRAND SLAM 1948.

TRIPLE CROWNS 1894, 1899, 1948, 1949, 1982, 1985, 2004.

OUTRIGHT WINNERS 1894, 1896, 1899, 1935, 1939, 1948, 1949, 1951, 1974, 1982, 1985.

WOODEN SPOONS 1883, 1884, 1891, 1895, 1920, 1938, 1960, 1977, 1981, 1986, 1992, 1998.

IF IRELAND MADE MUSIC THEY'D BE... VAN MORRISON

You can't bank on either of them, although the rugby lads are a little more dependable than Van the Man these days. Brian O'Driscoll may be the most inventive artist to emerge in Ireland since the boy from East Belfast first stoked up the blues 40 years ago, and he has the entire population eating out of his hand. The Lansdowne Road faithful are already rehearsing their choruses of "Gloria".

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