The Six Nations begins on Saturday February 5th, with Ireland welcoming Wales to the Aviva Stadium. And in his column this morning Gordon D'Arcy has suggested Ireland could be in the title mix if they can replicate their play and form from last Autumn, which included victory over the All Blacks. He writes: "It is not overstating things to suggest that if we deliver our rucks, even close to the speed that we managed against NZ, we would be genuine championship contenders." Johnny Sexton remains in mercurial form but with Joey Carbery currently out with another injury, it is less clear who will be Andy Farrell's back-up at outhalf. And D'Arcy believes the time is right for the second coming of Connacht's Jack Carty: "There is something exciting about a player like Carty returning to the Test arena. He will feel there is unfinished business in an Irish jersey and I'm sure he would acknowledge that he can improve on the first incarnation as an international player." Meanwhile the second leg Champions Cup last-16 clash between Connacht and Leinster is set to be moved to the Aviva Stadium from the RDS, in a bid to attract a bumper crowd to Dublin. That fixture will take place across the weekend of April 15-17th.
The national football league is back this weekend, and in his column Seán Moran has suggested the competition will receive a hearty welcome as it coincides with the lifting of restrictions and the return of crowds to matches. A lot has changed since the last conventional league schedule was disrupted in March 2020 - and while normality is about to resume, there is also plenty of change lurking around the corner. He writes: "Three massive innovations are about to be trialled in a full season for the first time. Two years ago the Tailteann Cup for Tier 2 counties had just been introduced at a special congress in October 2019. It was one of the casualties of the pandemic with its introduction held back until this summer. This year also sees the most ambitious split season yet scheduled: the All-Ireland championship over by the end of July." Elsewhere yesterday the 2014 footballer of the year, Kerry's James O'Donoghue, confirmed his intercounty retirement due to persistent injury.
Poland's Iga Swiatek will meet Danielle Collins in the Australian Open semi-finals after she battled to a three set, 4-6 7-6 (2) 6-3 win over Estonia's Kaia Kanepi this morning. American Collins reached the last four thanks to a 7-5, 6-1 win over Alize Cornet, and afterwards she discussed her recovery from surgery for endometriosis last year: "When so much of the advice you've gotten over the years, certainly the advice that I had gotten over the years, is that painful periods are normal, taking anti-inflammatories on a regular basis is normal, I felt like it was something that I just had to deal with," she said. It finally got to the point where I couldn't deal any longer with it physically or mentally. Once I was able to get the proper diagnosis and the surgery, I feel like it's helped me so much not just from a physical standpoint but from a mental standpoint." Elsewhere Down Under, New Zealand doubles player Michael Venus has labelled Nick Kyrgios an "absolute knob" following his defeat to the Australian and Thanasi Kokkinakis - who have dubbed themselves the 'Special Ks' - in the quarter-finals.
And there is concern over the ground ahead of the Dublin Racing Festival, which gets underway at Leopardstown on February 5th. The going on the chase course is threatening to be too quick which could lead to a number of high-profile withdrawals, especially from the Irish Gold Cup. Willie Mullins has called the uncertainty over the course conditions "very worrying."