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Six Nations: Opportunity will knock for players to face England

By David Kelly

The Chinese celebrated their New Year last weekend — this is the year of the Tiger, as it happens, and perhaps the eponymous Mr Woods just may have been absorbing a little Oriental philosophy before he emerges from all his controversy.

Apparently, the Chinese deploy the same word for crisis and opportunity. Hence the maxim that declares just as a mishandled opportunity becomes a crisis, so a well-managed crisis becomes an opportunity. Tiger's will surely come.

Irish rugby's crisis is less rapt by such dramatic tension but as the Six Nations campaign takes a breather this weekend, there are opportunities abounding to abate any hysterical talk of an emergency ahead of the Twickenham tie with England in just nine days' time.

A glance at the team that completed last year's Grand Slam success and the one that may start in Twickenham — injuries and selection quandaries inclusive — indicates the vast destruction wrought on the most decorated team in Irish rugby history in such a short time.

There is fair chance that only a third of the team that started on that unforgettable Cardiff evening will remain in situ against the English — namely, the midfield partnership of Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy, Paul O'Connell, Stephen Ferris and Jamie Heaslip.

That may be a conservative estimate, especially if the Irish camp's notoriously secretive command of their casualty list viz Jonathan Sexton and, latterly, Tom Court, is taken into account.

For whom should opportunity knock? The main focus will be on the pivotal half-back positions. There, Leinster's duo of Sexton and Eoin Reddan will be eager to shine against the Scarlets this Saturday evening.

Peter Stringer and Isaac Boss should each believe that they have a chance to break into the 22. At full-back, Gavin Duffy is also hoping to impress but Leinster coach Michael Cheika's advocacy of Girvan Dempsey for that berth is a trip too far back in time for some.

Then again, is his return any less credible than that of Horgan or O'Kelly should they shine this weekend?

Rory Best will be expected to pass his audition under the Setanta TV lights this weekend although expect the Fogarty brothers Denis and John to push him hard.

Court's impressive cameos also demand inclusion despite mixed signals about his fitness while other so-called first-choices like Ronan O'Gara, Tomas O'Leary and David Wallace must be in jeopardy of losing their places.

We truly are, as the Chinese would attest, living in interesting times.

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