Brian O’Driscoll has warned that Joe Schmidt faces his toughest Six Nations Championship campaign since taking charge of Ireland.
Ireland will be going into next year’s tournament off the back of a successful Autumn series that saw them claim victories against Argentina, Fiji, and South Africa.
However, it was a fruitful November for many of the northern hemisphere’s sides, with England also achieving a 100% record, and Scotland securing a record victory over Australia.
France and Wales may have disappointed in their efforts, but that will not make Schmidt’s Six Nations any easier in O’Driscoll’s eyes.
Ireland have to travel to Paris for their opening game of the competition, while the former centre is wary of Wales’ ability to continually raise their game when the Six Nations comes around.
All in all it makes for an incredibly difficult task and, when asked if this could be Ireland coach Schmidt’s toughest Six Nations yet, O’Driscoll replied: “Yeah, of course.
“We have France and England away that are always difficult teams to beat at home.
“Historically we have always struggled to beat both France and England away, and managed to get the job done at home.
“He (Schmidt) is trying to put pressure on this Ireland team to break new ground.
“I definitely feel a win over England at Twickenham is high on his priority list.
“But you have got to look after all the games in advance of that. It would be quite something to win a Six Nations, or to win a Grand Slam, in England against a top quality England side.”
Although there is plenty of rugby to be played before it, many are already looking towards the final round of fixtures of the 2018 Six Nations when Ireland will take on England at Twickenham.
Both sides have dominated the competition over the past four years, with England now hunting for a third title in a row after Ireland were victorious in 2014 and 2015.
England have been drawing plenty of plaudits since Eddie Jones took charge in 2015 and they have lost just once in 23 Tests following the Australian’s appointment.
That solitary defeat came against Ireland in this year’s Six Nations and O’Driscoll insists it is proof Schmidt’s side are not far behind the Red Rose.
“To be brutally honest I think New Zealand are still out on their own, albeit the world has pulled them back a bit,” said O’Driscoll.
“I still feel like they are very much firmly No.1, with England in pursuit of second. I think Ireland are not a million miles behind England.
“I think the game at the Aviva last year showed what they are capable of in difficult conditions.
“It is just a matter of can they build on that game and the results in November to have that consistency of performance.
“They slipped up during the Six Nations against Scotland. They came out of the blocks very slowly and it just shows you can’t do that against top opposition.”
One man who showed signs of promise during the Autumn for Ireland was Joey Carbery, who had his series cut short due to a fractured wrist.
The creativity the 22-year-old brings to the team has led some to tout him as a replacement for Rob Kearney at full-back, despite the fact he usually operates at fly-half, but O’Driscoll believes Carbery may have to wait his turn on the bench for now.
“He is no doubt unbelievably talented. I think he has shown that he is a very able full-back, but he is a better outside-half,” said O’Driscoll.
“However, with [Jonathan] Sexton in that position, it is unlikely he is going to be displaced anytime soon.
“So, for the time being, he might have to bide his time, especially with Rob Kearney showing so well in that Argentina game the solidity that he brings to the 15 jersey.
“Joey is only a young guy. He is very creative and can turn a game, so he is a brilliant guy to have in your 23 if you’re not going to start him.”
O’Driscoll was filmed while entering ‘The Death Zone’ and the full film is on HSBC Sport channels. It can be viewed at www.youtube.com/HSBC
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