Shane Byrne: Ireland can do it again
Former hooker believes the Schmidt way is the best option for Ireland in the Six Nations
Former Ireland hooker Shane Byrne sees Joe Schmidt as the difference-maker between success and failure in the Six Nations.
"Look, we're no longer talking about the guy putting on the green jersey. It's about the guys giving them out as well.
"It is so much about that these days as the game evolves," he said.
"That's only going to become more important, you know, what the coaching staff does, how the game plan changes.
"That's what we like about the Joe Schmidt era," he pushed.
"They put together a strategy to beat the team in front of them. It has to be about that.
"He will tailor the plan and bring out one or two different strategies for Italy that we might not see again in The Championship."
Style comes second to substance when it comes to winning.
"It is not about the brand we play. It is about the plan we come up with and how we implement it."
The upbeat feeling about Ireland's chances at retaining their Six Nations based on what they did to South Africa and Australia in November and the timely return of important playerswill be put to the test five times in the cramped space of six weeks.
The ex-British & Irish Lion was keen to examine the approach Ireland should take and what they will encounter.
It all begins in Rome on Saturday.
ITALY v Ireland
Stadio Olimpico Saturday (2.30)
"The uneducated, I suppose, is the crude way of putting it, think Italy is a good one to start with. It is the exact opposite," stressed Byrne.
"You have to be extremely focused on it because they will be extremely enthusiastic. You have to impose your game plan on them from the start.
"It is a hard thing to do. It is the first game. It takes time to tie things together.
"One of Italy's biggest weaknesses is their injury load through the Six Nations. They are generally at their strongest for the first one. They go out and give absolutely everything they can to upset you.
"This is where it is a battle of wills. You have to inflict your plan on them as hard and as quick as you can."
Ireland v FRANCE
Sat Feb 14 (5.0)
"If you are looking at the odds, they are way down the order. You can't dismiss them.
"I suppose this year because Ireland are at home, the one thing you can say is that it's in Ireland's hands.
"Whatever French side comes over, it's still within our capabilities of doing what's necessary to win the game. That's the key to it.
"They are a complete unknown. They are in disarray. The coach is bananas. He does incredible things with selection.
"But, Ireland have the quality to handle whatever comes over, even if it's a fantastic French side.
"They still have the set-piece. They still have the skill. They still have the defence. They still have the spirit in each other."
Ireland v ENGLAND
Aviva Stadium Sun March 1 (3.0)
"They are going to be very tough. They're another side, just recently, that have not been as good as they should have been with the talent that has gone through the squad.
"They seem to rotate. There are no real stalwarts anymore. There are no 50-60 cappers there. They have such a massive playing base. They should be challengers every year.
"Farrell will be out which is a blow. But, there are very few gaps, weaknesses there.
"Rugby is the ultimate team sport. You have to learn to trust the guys around you. You have to have faith in them that 'I don't have to go over there because the guy who is there will do what needs to be done.'
"Therefore, you can do your job better and it all rolls from there. You come back again to 'it's a home game for Ireland.' Do Ireland have the ability to win it? Yes they do."
WALES v Ireland
Sat March 14 (2.30)
"Of all the teams, Wales have the most settled side," said Byrne.
"Gatland has taken a lot of criticism recently even though the finished up November by beating South Africa.
"That was a real boost. When Wales lose two games in a row, they go into crisis mode.
"It will be interesting to see how Gatland does because sometimes the coaching goes stale. It is not about whether the coach is great or not.
"They need an injection. They need to start well against England on Friday night. If they roll into the game against Ireland with their tails up, it will be a really long, long day over there.
"We went through a stage in the 80s and 90s where we had a better record over there than we did over here. Those days are gone.
"It really will be a gauntlet game over there."
SCOTLAND v Ireland
Sat March 21 (2.30)
"I'm worried about Scotland. I really am," he said.
"It used to be every ten years that Scotland would come out with a cracking side and never be seen again.
"That is what they used to do. Is it their time again? I like what I see from them.
"Glasgow have been leading the charge there in recent years. Edinburgh are starting to get back on track too.
I'm concerned about Scotland. That could be a real major game by the time it comes around on the final weekend.
"Hopefully, we will be playing for something and, hopefully, they won't."
SHANE BYRNE'S PREDICTION