England's visit to Dublin a Slam decider but other hurdles to clear too: D'Arcy
Gordon D'Arcy believes Ireland are capable of stripping down England's aura of invincibility in the Six Nations, as he predicts the eagerly anticipated clash between the two nations at the Aviva Stadium on March 18 will be a title decider.
The 13-game winning run pieced together by a resurgent England since Eddie Jones took the reins in November 2015 has fuelled belief ahead of the defence of their Six Nations crown, yet former Ireland centre D'Arcy feels the champions will face the biggest test of their credentials in front of a raucous Dublin crowd.
"England deserve to be recognised as favourites and their record in the last year or so is very impressive, but their self-belief will be tested in the Six Nations," said D'Arcy.
"England have strength in depth the others may not have and they are clearly confident in the ability of their squad, as we can see from the comments of Eddie Jones, who is not shy about telling anyone who wants to listen that his team are the best.
"He is certainly winning the sound-bite battle and while that can be a positive in terms of boosting the confidence of his players, it also creates pressure.
"The Ireland v England game in Dublin already feels like one of the great sporting tickets to get hold of in 2017, but I don't see that as the inevitable Grand Slam decider.
"So much can happen in a Six Nations tournament and it doesn't always go according to plan, but I would expect it to be a championship decider."
While Grand Slam glory remains the holy grail, D'Arcy suggests that a clean sweep is no longer the only priority.
"I feel there has been a shift in mentality in recent years away from being obsessed about winning the Grand Slam and putting a priority on winning the championship," said one of the heroes of Ireland's 2009 Grand Slam.
"You need so much to go in your favour to win each match in a Six Nations that always throws up so many obstacles and this is why I would suggest the championship should be the target now.
"If the Grand Slam comes along, than that is always a bonus."
D'Arcy is backing Munster wing Andrew Conway to make his mark after being called-up to Joe Schmidt's squad yesterday, while he urged Leinster hooker James Tracy to step forward as a star.
"Now Munster are playing some really good rugby and Andrew is playing well in that team, so he deserves the call and he adds to a strong Irish squad," he said.
"If there is a guy I would hope to see kicking on a little bit, it would be James Tracy. We have been a little spoilt with the impact Sean Cronin brings, but his injury means there will be a lot of scrutiny over his replacement.
"Consistency of selection is positive in any team and there is a degree of rewarding players who have had a very good November series and the success of last year.
"This is a squad that can challenge for the Six Nations, but now they have to go and prove it where it matters most, and don't let anyone fool you into thinking the England game in Dublin will decide everything. There is a lot of rugby to be played before then."