Gatland's job on the line
February 2, 2000
Failure to win at least two matches in the new Six Nations championship opening on Saturday is likely to mean the end of the line for Ireland's New Zealand coach Warren Gatland.
Ireland failed to reach the final eight at the World Cup and if their disappointing form continues Gatland's contract will not be renewed when it expires at the end of the tournament.
"You don't have to be a rocket scientist to realise that there is pressure on the team's performance and pressure on myself to get results," he said recently.
Ireland will seek inspiration from the successes of Irish provincial side Munster, who have reached the last eight of the European Cup.
Eight Munster men figure in the 22-strong squad for the tough opening game against England at Twickenham next Saturday, including hooker Keith Wood, restored to the Irish captaincy.
Wood, who was on the losing side in all his previous nine matches as captain, said Ireland were seeking an improvement.
"I'd like to see us winning some matches. We've only won a match a year for a while. We need to get past that," he said after his appointment.
"If we get three wins, that would be a very good Six Nations. That is attainable, but that is pretty bloody difficult."
Not since 1993 have Ireland won two matches in the Five Nations and their sole success last year came when they defeated Wales at Wembley. They ended up sharing last place with France.
Ireland will expect to beat new boys Italy, who visit Lansdowne Road in March, hope for success in the home games against Scotland and Wales but face daunting away trips to Twickenham and Paris.
Gatland's efforts to rejuvenate his team after the World Cup disappointment have been undermined by injury problems.
Uncapped Ronan O'Gara, 22, had been pushing hard for selection ahead of the off form David Humphreys at flyhalf but was forced out of the squad this week with a knee injury.
O'Gara's kicking has played a crucial part in Munster's progress this season and he looks certain to make his debut later in the tournament. The experienced Eric Elwood replaces O'Gara in the squad for the England match.
Gatland also went for the older head at scrumhalf, naming Tom Tierney ahead of the diminutive Peter Stringer despite stringer displacing Tierney in the number nine jersey in the Munster side.
Frank Sheahan, the other uncapped man in the squad, is likely to serve as Wood's understudy in the hooker's role.
With the World Cup just a year away, ESPN picks out five matches to watch
Ahead of November's USA-All Blacks match, America's ESPN Magazine explains rugby to its readers who may not be familiar with the game
Tom Hamilton talks to World Cup-winning captain John Smit about life after rugby, his fears over the South African exodus and the World Cup