Wales are chasing the Triple Crown and the Championship at Croke Park this Saturday. I’m sure you’ve picked up on that by now. On a still day, you can hear them talking in Fishguard about it.
A victory will mean one trophy will wing its way to the valleys while one hand would arguably be gripped onto the other more significant pot.
After all, the swashbuckling/haphazard French travel to the Millennium Stadium the weekend after next for a likely Championship decider.
France’s form in the tournament to date has been as dependable as some of the explanations offered by some of the fine folk ‘co-operating’ with the Mahon Tribunal.
A little like Forrest Gump’s box of chocs, you never know what you’re going to get with les Bleus, who might yet feature Gerard Depardieu in the front row given Marc Lieveremont’s rotation policy.
And what of the Welsh? The most choral of all rugby support may be about to clear its collective throat to salute a success which could hardly have been foreseen following their World Cup disaster.
But the soon-to-be-beatified Warren Gatland surely knows that his team’s two toughest fixtures this spring have yet to be played.
And home advantage should prove decisive for the Irish this weekend against a rejuvenated yet hardly brilliant Welsh outfit.
For Ireland, a win this weekend will keep alive the ambition of retaining the Triple Crown ahead of a trip to Twickenham and also give them an outside shot at the Six Nations title.
But as things stand, barring a remarkable set of high-scoring results, it appears that the RBS trophy will be resting in either Paris or Cardiff a fortnight from now. But that’s a discussion for another time and place.
Back at the start of the campaign, three home wins and two good away performances was probably considered good enough to keep Eddie O’Sullivan in charge of Team Ireland.
So far, a so-so win over Italy which was followed by another ‘what might have been’ day away to the French. Critically, Ireland produced a performance, the minimum any coach seeks from a team under his charge.
This in turn was followed by an encouraging but hardly stunning display against the awful Scots but the five tries registered at Croker were very welcome indeed.
So far, the good has just about outweighed the not-so-good and for a man who likes to point to his wins per games ratio, O’Sullivan looks safe for now, though he’s hardly sitting pretty.
The British and Irish Lions coach’s job will soon occupy column inches the length and breadth of these islands, but it’s worth a mention ahead of this Saturday’s Celtic derby.
Warren Gatland has already signalled his designs on masterminding the Lions’ tour to South Africa next year, while O’Sullivan has been long considered the favourite to land the job.
Intriguingly, World Cup-winning coach Jake White has suggested that he’d like to take the cream of the ‘home’ nations to his native land just under 18 months from now. And right now, if I was making the choice, White is whom I’d opt for.
That’s not to detract from O’Sullivan’s achievement in the Irish job, since he has no equal in the near 13 decades of test management that preceded him.
But one could hardly say that man management is one of O’Sullivan’s greatest skills – the case of Geordan Murphy stands out like a mutated thumb, never mind a sore one.
And when dealing with such a diverse group of players that the next Lions squad will surely prove to be, the job requires a man used to dealing with such a challenge.
When one considers that White survived the most difficult balancing act in international team sport, he’s probably got better credentials for the job than anyone else right now.
Critically, he brings no baggage to the job, and unlike Graham Henry in 2001, he wouldn’t be seen as being in any particular country’s corner.
Given that Clive Woodward brought parochialism to uncharted levels in New Zealand, a clean break from the past two tours is surely now required.
And given that O’Sullivan was part of Woodward’s staff on that southern hemisphere car crash, guilt by association could yet count against him.
This is one of the more fascinating subplots to Saturday’s match. And given the history between O’Sullivan and Gatland with Ireland (and Connacht) and the composition of the Championship currently, all the ingredients are in place for a cracking 80 minutes.
Wales may have benefited from an English implosion in the first round, dodgy officiating against the Scots and an early slice of luck against Italy, but they top the table.
They’ve had the sort of good fortune that Irish teams have long been said to possess by mainly misguided British headline writers.
After all, in a season when a deflection off Brian O’Driscoll’s crotch lands a ball into an onrushing French wing’s mitts, Ireland can hardly be described as jammy.
World beaters they may not be, but confidence is high in Welsh ranks. They’re hitting the turf believing they can win and have risen above the sum of their parts this spring.
Watch their body language when they line up for the anthems on Saturday and compare it to the profile Scotland cut at Croke Park. The Scots wore the look of a team beaten before President McAleese had even got back to her high altitude seat. The Welsh shall not cower in such a manner.
An in-form James Hook could turn any moderately gifted side into a tough unit, unlike tabloid choice Gavin Henson, who’s yet to enjoy a productive Dublin afternoon.
Across the water, the sports pages will pad on ad nauseam about the ‘Gatland Revolution’ in Wales. Let them. That suits O’Sullivan, O’Driscoll et al just fine.
While all that waffle’s being spouted, the only question that Irish fans and fans with pens were talking about at the head of the week concerned who’d start at full-back. It was undecided at the time of writing.
A steady lineout to bolster a scrum that’s been outstanding to date would surely propel Ireland to victory on Saturday.
Marcus Horan and John Hayes have been the unsung heroes of the Championship and another big 80 minutes will be demanded of the Munster pair. They’re more than capable of rising to the task.
With Ronan O’Gara in irresistible form, Eoin Reddan beginning to purr as his half-back colleague and the three-quarter line moving the way it ought to, Ireland should prevail this weekend.
Both teams will attack and go for the win, which should ensure a great afternoon of rugby down Jones’s Road.
And one suspects that it’s the Irish who’ll be singing in the dressing room by the time the pundits are busy procrastinating on the whys and the wherefores.
Ireland to win and keep the dream alive.