THIS WEEKEND the Six Nations returns and for hardcore rugby fans across the world there are few tournaments better than the spring tournament.
Ireland takes on Wales in the Principality Stadium on Saturday as the number one ranked side in the world, while Wales have appointed former head coach Warren Gatland to overturn their horrendous form in 2022.
Ireland have not beaten Wales in Cardiff since 2013 and like most teams in world rugby have found it a tough place to go over the years.
Whatever happens it promises to be another cracker.
The game starts at 14.15 this Saturday and can be seen live on Virgin Media One
Alan Quinlan, who represented Ireland on 27 occasions and was speaking to Six Nations Odds about the upcoming game and sat down with them to talk about Ireland's form, Leinster, Johnny Sexton, and the likes of Andy Farrell.
Our first line up of 2023! 🟢#TeamOfUs | #GuinnessSixNations
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) February 2, 2023
Alan Quinlan on Ireland
"Last year in the Six Nations, losing in Paris against France was disappointing. And it was a bit of a reality check for everybody really. How good they can be and how good they will be at the World Cup in France It can get much better if we could pass the quarterfinals at the World Cup. That’s the big goal for everyone involved.
"But that said it was a great year for Ireland. The results were good in November but I don’t know if the performance against Australia or Fiji were what they aspire to. It was a very good result against South Africa.
"Nobody's getting carried away here. Because we've been here before in 2018 and we had a brilliant year here winning the grand slam, a series in Australia, beat New Zealand in Dublin. We had a really disappointing 2019. So I think that will help the players that will help the squad and the fans keep their feet on the ground.
"The world number one ranking is not something they’re going to buy into. They’ve got a good squad. If they keep people healthy and fit I think they'll have a good chance of having a good year."
Alan Quinlan on Ireland taking one game at a time
"I think what you're gonna experience now is a lot of journalists from other countries talking them up or maybe ridiculing the fact that they're not the best team in the world and that France are the best team in the world or South Africa are better than Ireland, or whatever.
"Ireland are comfortable with that. Ireland don't need that mantle. It's not a psychological advantage to them in any way. I think in fact, they probably think of themselves as being the second or third best thing in the world, not number one.
"But one of their big strengths is the Leinster players there and they play with each other on a regular basis. Thyey know inside out. They're good position. I don't think there was too far ahead because.
"If they don't win the Six Ntaions that might not be the worst thing in the world to temper expectations a little bit.
Alan Quinlan on Johnny Sexton
"Johnny is so important to the whole set up. He would be important to any team given the level of performance, the leadership the playing ability that he shows.
"He was probably one of the players in 2019 people were ready to send out to grass and say you know he’s had his time.
"But he’s shown incredible strength and resilience and obviously quality to come back and play really well. He’s not bought into the expectation that when you hit your mid 30s that you've got to retire and finish. He has got better and better.
"Obviously the system at the IRFU the team he plays with at Leinster helps that he can get breaks and limit his game time. He's an incredibly important leader and player for Ireland.
"He’s a unique player. Any team would be happy to have him."
Alan Quinlan on Sexton’s successor?
"Everyone was surprised by Joey Carberry’s omission from the squad. But I think we're probably forgetting the other two players Ross Byrne and Jack Crowley. You couldn’t have four out halves. It was tough for Joey Carberry because he's a very talented player.
"I think Jack Crowley and Ross Barton, are the two form players behind Sexton and Joey has to go again and fight his way back into the squad.
"Jack has the ability to make that gap smaller between the rest and Johnny Sexton. He started against Australia in November. He’s a very, very good player whose been playing centre for Munster. Ross Byrne also burn deserves a shot. He’s a really good temperament and a superb kicking flyhalf as well.
"The only question mark there’s ever been is his ability to take the ball to the line and get the backline moving.
"When he plays for Leinster though he doesn't seem to have a problem do not so I think it's a bit unfair the way he's been judged."
Alan Quinlan on Andy Farrell
"He’s done a brilliant job. And Mike Catt. They had big boots to fill when they went in and took over from Joe Schmidt.
"There was a lot of question marks about the attack and the predictability about Ireland. He's very popular with the players. And you can see the level of belief and inspiration that he's given these guys. And we saw a lot of it last year, but he's a realist as well.
"Most of the Irish players who've experienced what happened in Japan and the 2019 Six Nations understand that things can change very, very quickly. And they just got to try and be conscious and aware of it.
"I think their game has developed to the point that they're not going to change the way they're trying to keep the ball alive and attack and be ambitious.
"For Ireland to have England and France is obviously a benefit it doesn't guarantee you anything. What Fabien Galthie and Shaun Edwards have done for France in incredible. And Warren Gatland’s return to Wales brings excitement. I'm sure he’ll fire a few shots!"
Alan Quinlan on Leinster being Ireland’s heartbeat
"Leinster have incredible depth and so many talented players coming through a very good school system and club system in Dublin. They’re the envy of a lot of clubs around Europe. 20 players in the Irish squad that tells its own story.
"It's not magical idea or system that was put in place or professionalism. It was always there, we always had provincial just a natural fit for it to go that way when the game went professional and when teams started playing in Europe. It’s very much focused on the system and developments and young players and there's a seamless transition then up into the national setup.
"The balance has shifted from Munster to Leinster who are the dominant team not just in Ireland but across Europe. There's 20 Leinster, eight Munster, four Ulster and three Connacht."