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talking points Famous five could be the key to Ireland's Six Nations fate


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Johnny Sexton.

Johnny Sexton.

Johnny Sexton.

As the Six Nations kicks off, here are five talking points that could determine Ireland's Six Nations fate.

1. Can Johnny Sexton join Tom Brady in tir na nóg?

Ireland's captain, playmaker, defibrillator, golden-boot, firewall against catastrophe and perpetually wound-up Mister Angry is the better part of a decade younger than the eternal 43-year-old who, remarkably, will be thrust centre stage at yet another Superbowl tonight.

Sexton, though, has shown signs of rust.

A distance from the imperious form that yielded 2018's World Player of the Year - rugby's answer to the Ballon d'Or - the brutal physical pummelling that is the out-half's debilitating staple diet means scarcely a game seems to go by without him limping, wincing or dizzily staggering.

Somehow he keeps coming back (coaxed, no doubt, by the chance to feed his addiction to indignantly eyeballing any referee daring to defy Johnny's interpretation of the rules): Today will be the 33rd of the last 36 Six Nations games he starts at Number Ten.

With Joey Carbery's doctor out of ink from writing sicknotes and Andy Farrell not trusting Jack Carty, Ireland desperately need the 35-year-old to squeeze a few more talismanic flourishes from an emptying tube of magic.

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Conor Murray.

Conor Murray.

Conor Murray.

2. Any chance of viewing the Conor pass?

Conor Murray box-kicking to order - the incessant, mind-numbing aerial ping-pong that became Joe Schmidt's weapon of mass tedium - is too often Ireland's grim signature tune.

Though successful against Wales last year - Murray's nine aerial bombs making 220 metres in the 24-14 victory - the opposition's screening of kick-chasers and the shielding of their own jumpers have reduced its effectiveness.

Worse, it is bloody awful to watch.

Almost as painful as those incessantly reset scrums which, back in medieval times, when crowds were permitted at the Aviva, allowed fans the opportunity to nip out to Paddy Cullen's for two quick pints, wolf down a kebab, and still be back in their seat before play resumed.

It would represent a huge aesthetic upgrade if Murray deemed Cardiff a no-fly zone today and instead went wide to a backline laden down with special game-changers in James Lowe, Keith Earls and Garry Ringrose.

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Tadhg Beirne.

Tadhg Beirne.

Tadhg Beirne.

3. Will this be the Day of the Jackal?

Wales, already buffeted by Covid (2019 World Cup top try scorer Josh Adams has been axed for breaching virus protocols), are about to be hit by the Irish strain of TB.

Tadhg Beirne may well reach through your TV screen this afternoon to steal your wallet or to snatch that tasty beverage you are planning to uncork in the early afternoon.

Beirne, a Kildare man who made his name playing in Wales before signing for Munster, is a professional pickpocket.

Rugby - being rugby - has to come up with a hip name for this ability to turn over ball in the tackle: So Tadhg is known in oval-ball vernacular as a jackal.

The in-form 6'6", 17-and-a-half-stone giant (it says everything about rugby's obsession with size that many feel he is not big enough for the international game) showcased his talents with a Man-of-the-Match display in last month's Pro14 clash against Leinster.

Beirne built his reputation playing club rugby in Llanelli with Scarlets after painful rejection by Leinster: Ireland will be hoping he bites - or thieves - the Welsh hand that fed him.

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Paul O'Connell.

Paul O'Connell.

Paul O'Connell.

4. Will Ireland's line-out follow Paulie down O'Connell street?

Paul O'Connell's addition to Ireland's coaching team marked the only segment on the Six One news it was possible to watch during lockdown without feeling the urge to launch one of those Eric Cantona kung-fu kicks at the television.

Not even Sam McConkey or George Lee could interpret Paulie's arrival as bad news.

The grizzled, mythical, all-powerful High King of Munster, the man who, with one glance to the heavens, could persuade the rain that had been teeming down on Limerick since Frank McCourt wrote Angela's Ashes to immediately cease, brings an unrivalled aura.

If he can fix the incoherent mess that is the Irish line-out while adding a little oomph at ruck-time, the next stop for Paulie might be as Michael D's successor - though that may need a reconfiguration of the Áras an Uachtaráin ceilings.

Maybe he might just inherit Farrell's crown instead!

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James Lowe'

James Lowe'

James Lowe'

5. Will ireland swing Lowe?

James Lowe is an impressive chariot: As fearless as Ben Hur in the Roman Colosseum, a natural-born finisher (he had amassed 33 tries in just 49 Leinster appearances ahead of his Irish bow in November) who cruises across difficult terrain with the unstoppable power of a huge-engined four-wheel drive.

The New Zealand-born wing makes his Six Nations debut - he is preferred to RDS colleague Jordan Larmour - with the potential, if Farrell's game-plan affords him a license to thrill, to be a match winner.

There were some complaints about his defensive work in November - but then you don't pick Cristiano Ronaldo for his ability to track back and make covering tackles.

Lowe is a lethal predator: Even as an 8/1 fav to nab the first try, he will attract plenty of punters eager to reinvest their Dublin Racing Festival winnings.

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