10 Dec, 12:23
Ireland's John Lacey will referee his first ever RBS 6 Nations match in February, while Alain Rolland is also included in the Elite Panel in what is his last season.
"We have a very difficult draw in this year's championship. We have Scotland away first up and then six days later we have Italy away. So we don't get to play in Lansdowne Road until we play France in March. So I think the start to the Six Nations is going to be the key for us." "And what a difficult start to get - Scotland away. It's been the graveyard of Ireland rugby for 18 years. We've lost count at this stage of the number of times we've gone to Edinburgh cock-a-hoop and come back with our tails between our legs."
"The start is reallly crucial. If we start well and build momentum, there's the possibility of a good Six Nations, and if we don't, we'll make it very difficult for ourselves. If we can get a result in Edinburgh and back it up a week later in Italy it puts us in great shape going into the French game in Lansdowne Road. If it goes the other way for us, the French game will be more difficult - and it's going to be hard enough as it is."
"I suppose it's like any tournament. It's about momentum. It's about getting a good start, getting a confident feel about the team. That confidence is there at the moment but no better place than Murrayfield to dismember that." "There's a fair bit of consistency in the squad right now. I mean there's not too many surprises when we announce the squad these days and I think that's a great thing. Once you know who is out injured, it's pretty much a fill-in situation."
"I think that consistency is good for the players, I think they all feel confident that they're in the frame. They're getting a chance and they're not looking over their shoulder if they make a couple of mistakes."
"I think the management have blended together very well. We've more or less a year together now and we've got the feel for each other and I think there's a good synergie built up within the squad and the management. So that certainly makes life a lot easier for me. When you're starting out a year ago, like we were. with a lot of new faces and trying to establish what you want to do, it's a tough time. We went into a Six Nations at the deep end and we had our ups and downs in that but certainly now I think we've benefitted from all of those games being together last year and I think we've probably blended fairly well."
On the question of the tour to New Zealand last summer, O'Sullivan was very frank, "To be honest I wouldn't have gone to New Zealand if I'd been given a choice because we were at the end of a season. We'd had a tough Six Nations, we had a lot of injuries. New Zealand isn't the place to go in those circumstances unless it's for a holiday."
" But when it was put in front of us we decided to make something of it. We decided to use it as a starting point for something, and in many ways, I'd have to say, putting the disappointment of Dunedin behind us, I think it probably was the catalyst for the autumn. It was a tour that we didn't want but once we were committed to it we made the best of it and I think that was important. "