Ireland aim for second Six Nations Grand Slam

Ireland will start their first ever defense of the Six Nations title next week aiming to make last year’s Grand Slam the start of a sustained period of success.


No side has won consecutive Grand Slams since the competition expanded to include Italy 10 years ago, but Ireland could be well-placed to become the first after being the only team in world rugby unbeaten through 2009.


Ireland goes into its tournament opener against Italy with the same squad that followed a first European title since 1985 with a draw against Australia and victory over World Cup holder South Africa.


Captain Brian O’Driscoll said the settled lineup should provide consistency rather than the complacency that has at times afflicted other teams.


“You don’t defend something; you just try and win it again,” O’Driscoll said.


“I don’t think our psyche changes. It’s the same as its been for the last 10 years or so.”


The veterans of O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell have been joined by the likes of Rob Kearney, Tommy Bowe and Jamie Heaslip, all of whom have starred over the past year.


With Jonathan Sexton scoring 31 points in his first two matches to prove himself a capable backup, or even alternative, to record scorer Ronan O’Gara at flyhalf, Ireland has the sort of depth that should make it a strong challenger even if it picks up injuries.


Ireland’s success last year was built on its tightest ever tournament defense, with just three tries conceded.


O’Driscoll and coach Declan Kidney are keen to add more of the flowing rugby Ireland is more famous for, anxious that the youngsters in the side are not stifled by fear of the sort of failure that afflicted Ireland over the past decade.


Ireland was regularly tipped to win a first Grand Slam since 1948 but always fell short, with Wales, France and England all achieving the feat since 2000.


“The older brigade have said that some of the less experienced guys don’t really know the 10 years of disappointment that we went through,” O’Driscoll said.


“You shouldn’t try to burn them or tell them about that. Let them go with the flow of winning.


“If they have that mentality, then let them breed that type of thinking into the guys below them. That way we’ll be heading in the right direction instead of saying it was such a hard battle for 10 years and eventually we won it.”


Ireland’s first obstacle is an obdurate Italian side that showed in November’s defeat to New Zealand that, with strong support from its fans, it can trouble any side despite finishing last seven of the past 10 years.


But the Italians are less formidable after the loss of captain Sergio Parisse to a cruciate ligament injury. They will instead be led by hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini.


“It would be a sad situation if Italy was only a competitive team when Sergio Parisse was playing,” Italy coach Nick Mallett said.


“It’s fantastic to have a player like him, but in the broader context of the team, we can still perform without him.


“In my opinion, he’s the best No. 8 in Europe and certainly one of the best No. 8’s in the world.”


Mallett, a South African who nonetheless insists on Italian being spoken at all team meetings, is aiming to build on the progress that means the experiment of playing flanker Mauro Bergamasco at scrumhalf last season doesn’t need to be repeated.


Mallett is not expecting victory at Ireland but said home matches against England and Scotland were winnable.


“We’re not in such desperate straits as last year when I had to pick Mauro at scrumhalf because I didn’t have anyone else available,” Mallett said.


“Last year was a very poor selection forced upon me by circumstances.”


England was leading try scorer last season and will be hoping the return of key players including Delon Armitage and Riki Flutey reintroduces that fluidity after a sterile November of one try in

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