Ireland coach Eddie O'Sullivan has urged his players to rebuild their reputations during the RBS 6 Nations.
A pitiful group exit from the World Cup made a mockery of Ireland’s pretensions of reaching the semi-finals and the team was pilloried upon its return home.
O’Sullivan believes the RBS 6 Nations offers a chance of redemption after unveiling his 33-man squad for the tournament on Tuesday.
“The 6 Nations represents a great opportunity for us to get back to the standards we have achieved in the past,” he said.
O’Sullivan also has a point to prove with another dismal showing from Ireland almost certainly likely to spell the end of his seven-year reign as head coach.
The squad included a injection of youth with uncapped Leinster duo Cian Healy and Jonathan Sexton appearing alongside rookies Jamie Heaslip, Luke Fitzgerald and Tommy Bowe.
Yet with only the injured Paul O’Connell and retired Denis Hickie unavailable, O’Sullivan could revert en masse to his first choice World Cup 22 when he names the team to face Italy on February 2.
It is hard to believe Ireland will perform as badly as they did in France when international action resumes early next month and some respected commentators have tipped them to win the Six Nations.
O’Sullivan agrees the title is up for grabs, although away Tests against France and England mean it would be a major achievement.
“It is the tournament that we always want to do well in and this year’s championship is really open with no clear favourites,” he said.
“So it really is a case of only looking forward to your next game, which starts with an Italy side who always begin the tournament well.”
O’Connell has been sidelined with a back problem sustained during the World Cup and is almost certain to miss the opening two 6 Nations games against Italy and France.
But if the feared Munster lock, traditionally Ireland’s vice-captain, requires surgery he will miss the entire competition.