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Keith Wood on Ireland's Six Nations chances

Keith Wood

Keith Wood
Former Ireland captain

Nobody will want to mention it within the squad, but I think Ireland have a good chance of winning another Grand Slam.

Brian O'Driscoll & Declan Kidney
Last year's Grand Slam was Ireland's first for 61 years

There is a huge hunger to try to do it again this year and it is how they react to the change of circumstances that will determine whether they are able to.

There is plenty of evidence from recent history to remind you that you can't take anything for granted. Remember Wales winning the Grand Slam in 2005 and then struggling badly in 2006. It happens.

One of the biggest challenges Ireland will have is to try to keep the expectation level realistic, so you have confidence but not over-confidence.

But with Declan Kidney in charge, there is little danger of the players getting complacent. He managed it unbelievably well last year in terms of taking it one game at a time.

It is maybe a psyche that fits more comfortably with Ireland. We have never been great ones for shouting from the rooftops, and probably the less said the better in this instance.

The Irish are in a pretty good place. They have a very strong group, they know how they want to play and it is pretty clear they are going to be formidable again

England manager Martin Johnson

At times in the autumn, against Australia and especially against South Africa, the Irish showed they are arguably a better team than when they won the Slam last year.

But remember that Ireland still rode their luck in last year's Six Nations, especially against England and the decider in Wales, so that is another way of keeping expectations in check.

Another issue may be the effect, mental and physical, on players who toured with the Lions in South Africa last summer.

Ireland had half-a-dozen players in the Lions Test XV and the following season there is always the issue of whether the buzz is still there.

I think that becomes more relevant if they start losing. It is very hard, and players could be a bit shaken because they have become used to winning, and adrenaline takes over in those circumstances.

I found the seasons after Lions tours very taxing. You are very tired and trying to get your focus back up again - in 1997 I played a couple of weeks after coming back from South Africa.

Tommy Bowe
Tommy Bowe was one of the stars of the 2009 Six Nations

But rugby has got so big in Ireland now, and so professional, that I think it is easier to make the jump back into it than it was 13 years ago.

They are managing the players very well at the moment and the Lions guys had a huge break this time. Traditionally, you would have a chunk of those injured at this stage already.

But aside from Luke Fitzgerald, the majority have managed to stay relatively injury-free, which is key going into the Six Nations.

I know Ireland will say every game is a big obstacle in their campaign but the biggest one is probably France away in Paris in the second round.

I think they just need to have the confidence to stay in the game. Beating France is not simple but there is a formula to it.

If you are in the game at half-time, you have a very good chance. Ireland have the ability to score and to still be going at the end, which they wouldn't have had in the past.

Ireland are owed nothing - O'Driscoll

But now they have the fitness, the experience of winning big games and a strong leadership group which means they can deliver on that sort of stage.

There are some similarities there with the England team in the period leading up to the 2003 World Cup

But Ireland have a lot of guys on the far side of 30 and it depends if they can keep them intact until then, and whether they still have the verve and oomph they will need at that stage.

But I don't think Ireland can think about the World Cup yet. They need to concentrate on the Six Nations and deliver in that again first.

Keith Wood was talking to BBC Sport's Bryn Palmer.

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see also
RBS Six Nations launch day
29 Jan 10 |  Rugby Union
Video - 2009 Six Nations review
21 Apr 09 |  Rugby Union
Jeremy Guscott's players to watch
02 Feb 10 |  Rugby Union
'Calm' Irish can handle pressure
28 Jan 10 |  Irish
Best in Ireland Six Nations squad
19 Jan 10 |  Irish
Ireland 20-20 Australia
15 Nov 09 |  Irish
Ireland 15-10 South Africa
28 Nov 09 |  Irish
Grand Slam Ireland welcomed home
22 Mar 09 |  Northern Ireland
Wales 15-17 Ireland
21 Mar 09 |  Rugby Union

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