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    @@@@SPAN id="rugby_story1">@@@@SPAN>Six Nations crunch time for Ireland@@@@/SPAN>

    @@@@SPAN>20/01/2007@@@@/SPAN>
    Eddie
    O'Sullivan admits Ireland are facing crunch time as they attempt to end
    a 22-year-wait for RBS 6 Nations glory burdened by their status as
    championships favourites.



    Stunning victories over South Africa and Australia during the autumn
    internationals temporarily lifted Ireland to third place in the world
    rankings last year.



    In reality only the mighty All Blacks can claim superiority with the
    mediocrity on display elsewhere in November, combined with Irish
    brilliance, deciding the pecking order.



    But while O'Sullivan furiously plays down predictions of Irish success
    during World Cup year, he insists recent achievements will mean nothing
    if they are not backed up with silverware.



    "We've made good progress and I'm very happy but you can get wrapped up
    in that nonsense whereby you tell yourself how good you are. We need to
    focus on what we're about," said the head coach.



    "We did a good job in the autumn and the lads deserved a pat on the back for a good month's work.



    "But we put that in the bank soon after and started looking ahead
    because we're already staring down the barrel of the Six Nations which
    presents a whole bunch of new challenges.



    "We're not getting carried away but our success in November doesn't
    mean anything if we don't build on it and that's what we'll try to do
    in the Six Nations."



    Equipped with the finest generation of players in the nation's rugby
    history and a bright coach who has made the Irish model the envy of
    world, it is hard to see how last year's Triple Crown winners will not
    be toasting their first championship since 1985 come March.



    Their supremely-gifted backs are beginning to realise their vast
    potential and are the envy of Europe, while up-front they possess a
    rugged, hard pack led by the unflinching Paul O'Connell.



    Experience runs throughout the team and they have a settled line-up
    aided by the absence of the crippling numbers of injuries suffered by
    their Six Nations rivals.



    Depth has been added to the squad, too, with O'Sullivan using the
    autumn series to establish some relatively new faces in the squad such
    as Paddy Wallace, Bryan Young and Isaac Boss.

    @@@@/SPAN>
    @@@@SPAN id="rugby_story2">But even with the World Cup just seven months away, O'Sullivan will not be experimenting during the Six Nations.



    "We used 26 players during the autumn and when you look at it like that
    we dug pretty deep into our cover. We've now built depth in key
    positions and in terms of versatility," he said.



    "Players have been able to perform in different positions as well. We
    did it in the autumn because we don't have the same latitude to make
    changes in the Six Nations.



    "It will be about getting the best team on the field, whatever that takes."



    Traditionally this year would be Ireland's best chance of winning the
    championship, with England and France having to visit Dublin.



    But the ailing heavyweights' decline during the autumn points to the
    Cardiff opener against Wales as possibly the most precarious assignment.



    The setting for the battles against England and France should aid
    Ireland's cause with Croke Park playing host to 82,500 noisy home fans.



    Past events ensure the world champions' trip to Croke Park, which will
    be the first time the English have set foot in the home of the Gaelic
    Athletic Association, could prove explosive.



    Overall, much will depend on how Ireland cope with the favourites tag
    as in the past it has been a burden that has rested heavily on green
    shoulders.



    But against South Africa and Australia, who were expected to lose in
    Dublin, they rose to the occasion magnificently and thrived under the
    pressure of expectati
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