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Rugby Six Nations: Ireland

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt names his squad for 2018 NatWest Six Nations

The annual International Rugby Union tournament returns to European stadiums on February 3rd as holders England look to retain their title for the second successive year. All the big rugby stars will be involved for the 18th series of the competition, with England's Maro Itoje and Chris Robshaw, Scotland's Stuart Hogg, Wales' Leigh Halfpenny and Ireland's Conor Murray all set to feature. England will bid to defend the trophy after falling just shy of a successive grand slam in the final match last year. Ireland will ignore England coach Eddie Jones' barb over England's Rugby 6 Nations chances to win, says Ireland boss Joe Schmidt. Schmidt told his men that Ireland must not become distracted by Eddie Jones' "grenade" of claiming England will be weakened by injury in the NatWest 6 Nations. England will chase glory and their third consecutive Six Nations trophy this year, but Jones last week attempted to talk his side's chances down. Jones claimed England have "no hope" of reclaiming their title, but Ireland head coach Schmidt has called on his side not to be distracted by Jones' statement, downplaying England's chances. Ireland will launch their Six Nations campaign when they go face to face with France in Paris on Saturday, February 3, while England play Italy in Rome the following day.

"I know Eddie is excited about the people he's got, he's just not telling you that," said Schmidt. "It must be on the back of having 12 teams to select from and the eight days he's had in camp as opposed to us having three. I know Eddie from old, and I know he's going to throw in the odd grenade, and fair play to him for doing it. It keeps us on our toes. We've got to come up with some clever riposte, but we're not clever enough to do it well. We've got 13 players injured, missing some senior guys, like Sean O'Brien, and Jared Payne, pivotal to us the last time we won the Six Nations, and he's only played once in the last year. You can always reflect on who you're missing. You can reflect on that but you've got to focus on who you've got." All the Six Nations sides go into the tournament missing many injured stars, and Schmidt has called on tournament organizers to retain the two fallow weeks between fixtures that allow a vital breather for battered and bruised bodies. "I think the fallow weeks are brilliant; that gives you the ability to come up for air and keeps the tournament at the top of the tree," said Schmidt. "You're more likely to have players who aren't ground down additionally, and players can be at their best. People want to see the best players at their best."

Twenty-one-year-old Ulster and Ireland wing Jacob Stockdale is making a name for himself despite this only being Stockdale's first full season of professional rugby. He scored a try on his Ireland debut against USA last June, before adding two more wins in Ireland's record victory over South Africa in the Autumn and a further eight for Ulster. Stockdale is currently one of the most exciting talents in world rugby. Stockdale who is 6ft 3ins and 16 stone earned his nickname 'The Mountain Goat' after training in the sand dunes near Portrush. Stockdale is on the verge of his first Six Nations start for Ireland as one of the new generations of playmaking talent that includes his Leinster rival Jordan Larmour, Adam Byrne, Darren Sweetham, and Andrew Conway. Stockdale's size coupled with searing acceleration, footballing savvy, and talent in his left boot, is dangerous to even the best defenses across Europe this season, scoring 11 tries for club and country. Jacob who almost walked away from rugby because of his small size was born in Lurgan to the son of a chaplain in Maghaberry prison. Rugby has always been in the family. His father Graham and grandfather Ivan played for Ballyclare. When Stockdale and his family moved to Ballynahinch in Co Down, the four-year-old lad began playing mini-rugby at the local rugby club, Ballynahinch RFC, one of Ulster's famous rugby nurseries. He was big for his age and his early years were spent in the second row before he moved to the wing aged 11, but by the time he joined Wallace High School in Lisburn he had lost his physical advantage. "By fourth year I was one of the smallest guys in my year," Stockdale recalled. "I was around 5ft 5ins. At around 14 or 15, I stopped going to training because I wasn't enjoying it. I in the 'B' team and didn't have any interest in it.

Schmidt is gearing Ireland up for an intense upcoming Six Nations tournament that will begin in just a few days. Ireland completed a clean sweep of November victories with a 28-19 win over Argentina in Dublin. Jacob Stockdale's two-try brace and a score for CJ Stander saw Ireland win, with the Pumas' three-try flurry coming too late. Head coach Schmidt's men racked up a record 38-3 win over South Africa earlier this month before a new line-up edged past Fiji 23-20 last weekend. Ireland have blooded youngsters while still pulling off results this autumn, but Schmidt believes the Six Nations will be an entirely different beast. "I think they've got more difficult every year," said Schmidt. "I thought that 2014 was nice and easy, we won the title comfortably by a five-point differential. That's how tough it is to get your nose in front. We've got to go to France first up. I know what they are going to be like - incredibly combative. There's plenty of motivation, and again I think it is going to be really tough. There are a few teams to get players back as well. England have nursed players through their autumn. A couple of their big-name Lions haven't played that much. So there's still a few cards up their sleeves, and the same for Scotland. I think the Six Nations is a phenomenal tournament, and I would pay the utmost respect to that competition. The World Cup is really Johnny-come-lately in regard to that. The Six Nations is our tournament. There are teams in the Six Nations that you're obliged to go as hard as you can, because you still need your top selection, to keep building their fluidity together. And you need to keep building confidence. We took some risks in this autumn, I know. I'd like to say all were calculated, but some were perchance."

Stockdale and Munster center Chris Farrell have proved their Test class in the Autumn Internationals for Ireland as head coach Schmidt looks to build depth towards the 2019 World Cup. The former Leinster head coach says that it would be difficult to gauge whether Ireland sit are stronger now than in 2013. "It's tough to compare," said Schmidt. "I think 2013 I was learning probably more than the players. I was trying to work out the differences between Test match rugby and provincial rugby, and those very small windows you get to work with players to develop them. I was a bit dazed and confused, I felt a bit punch drunk at the end of that first November series. I'm not saying I feel that different now. One of the best things about this group is I feel the experienced players helping the younger players through. You want people feeding off each other, a bit of youth and athleticism." Schmidt named his Ireland squad for 2018 Six Nations. Leinster full-back Jordan Larmour has won his first call-up to Ireland's senior ranks after being named in Joe Schmidt's 36-man Six Nations squad. The fast-improving 20-year-old has forced his way into Leinster's senior side this season. Now the former St Andrew's College man has the chance to impress on the Ireland side, with head coach Schmidt's men kick-starting their Six Nations campaign by facing France in Paris on February 3. Sean O'Brien has missed out due to a hip injury, leaving the British and Irish Lions flanker a doubt.

"It's been great to witness some quality performances from provincial teams over the last seven weeks of European and derby matches, with a number of players performing well," said Schmidt. "There were some very tight decisions but it's great to see some competitive depth in a number of positions." Leinster flanker O'Brien, Garry Ringrose, Jared Payne and Jamie Heaslip are among the long-term absentees that Ireland must do without in the opening rounds of Six Nations action. Leinster wing Fergus McFadden is back in the ranks and could make his first Test appearance since Ireland's 35-25 victory over Scotland in Dublin in March 2016. Joey Carbery has been included as he continues his recovery from the wrist injury he suffered during Ireland's November Autumn Internationals.

Ireland Six Nations Squad

FORWARDS: Rory Best (CAPTAIN, Ulster), Jack Conan (Leinster), Sean Cronin (Leinster), Ultan Dillane (Connacht), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster), Cian Healy (Leinster), Iain Henderson (Ulster), Rob Herring (Ulster), Dave Kilcoyne (Munster), Dan Leavy (Leinster), Jack McGrath (Leinster), Jordi Murphy (Leinster), Peter O'Mahony (Munster), Andrew Porter (Leinster), Quinn Roux (Connacht), James Ryan (Leinster), John Ryan (Munster), CJ Stander (Munster), Devin Toner (Leinster), Josh van der Flier (Leinster)
BACKS: Bundee Aki (Connacht), Joey Carbery (Leinster), Andrew Conway (Munster), Keith Earls (Munster), Chris Farrell (Munster), Robbie Henshaw (Leinster), Rob Kearney (Leinster), Ian Keatley (Munster), Jordan Larmour (Leinster)*, Kieran Marmion (Connacht), Fergus McFadden (Leinster), Luke McGrath (Leinster), Conor Murray (Munster), Johnny Sexton (Leinster), Rory Scannell (Munster), Jacob Stockdale (Ulster)
* uncapped player

Jones explained the extent of England's injury concerns at Wednesday's Six Nations launch in London, confirming that Chris Robshaw and Mike Brown are doubts for England's opening match against Italy. Robshaw has a back problem and Brown is being troubled by blurred vision, leaving Jones to rate the Harlequins duo as "borderline" for the trip to Rome. Robshaw was a guaranteed starter in England's back row while Brown was equally assured of his place at full-back and they will continue their rehabilitation at the squad's training camp on the Algarve. "Chris Robshaw would win any sort of water Olympics at the moment. He's unbelievable in the pool," Jones said. "He did a water aerobics class with a bunch of Portuguese women yesterday (Tuesday). Apparently, he was the best in the class. If we play Italy in the pool he'd be all right, but if we're playing rugby then he'd be borderline to get there. Mike Brown is starting to do some light skills today (Wednesday) and we'd be hopeful that by the middle of next week he'd be all right to train. He's also borderline for Italy."

Jones announced that Henry Slade will miss the first matches of the Rugby 6 Nations because of a shoulder issue but Jack Nowell may be back from his ankle injury in time to face Wales on February 10. England have 16 players ruled out of the start of their title defense, 18 if Robshaw and Brown fail to recover. England's Kyle Sinckler, their second choice tighthead prop, may miss the entire Six Nations tournament with his hamstring problem. "Kyle Sinckler was being examined again this morning, but the likelihood is that he has a hamstring injury of significance and will probably be out for six to seven weeks," Jones said.

Six Nations Rugby Tickets

Ireland will play three home matches (v Italy, Wales and Scotland) and two away matches (v France and England) in the 2018 Six Nations Championship. Ireland will travel to Paris to get their 2018 Six Nations campaign underway with their opening match against France on Saturday 3rd February.

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France v Ireland Tickets 3 Feb Stade de France Paris, France
Ireland v Italy Tickets 10 Feb 2018 Aviva Stadium Dublin, Republic of Ireland
Ireland v Wales Tickets 24 Feb 2018 Aviva Stadium Dublin, Republic of Ireland
Ireland v Scotland Tickets 10 Mar 2018 Aviva Stadium Dublin, Republic of Ireland
England v Ireland Tickets 17 Mar 2018 Twickenham Stadium Twickenham, United Kingdom

Six Nations Rugby Stadiums

Twickenham - Located in England, Twickenham is the largest dedicated rugby union ground in the world, Located in South West London, Twickenham is easy to reach from the city center by train from Twickenham station and tube stations Richmond and Hounslow East. BT Murrayfield, Scotland - The BT Murrayfield is the largest stadium in Scotland, with a capacity of 67, 130. Located west of Edinburgh city center, the stadium can be reached from Haymarket station (which is a 20-minute walk away).
Millennium Stadium - Millennium Stadium is located right in the heart of Cardiff. It is a stunning venue and has hosted a number of high profile events since opening in 1999. The nearest station is Cardiff Central which operates services to the Midlands, South coast and London. Aviva Stadium - Aviva stadium is located in a suburb of Ballsbridge in Dublin. Aviva Stadium is about 15 minutes away from the city center via public transport and can be accessed from Lansdowne Road DART station.
Stadio Olimpico -The 72,698 seat Stadio Olimpico is located approx 4km north of Vatican City. The easiest way to access the venue by public transportation is via the local tram or bus network. Stade de France - Located in north Paris, France, Stade de France can be reached by several local metro stations that service the stadium from Gare du Nord and the airport.