It had been suggested that the French would provide our first real test of the tournament but I would not agree with a statement which is derogatory to the other teams we have played. We had not beaten Scotland at Murrayfield for years, so to go to Edinburgh and win well was a big lift. Italy are improving rapidly and there was no suggestion that we would underestimate them.
Pundits said prior to the tournament that England, France and Ireland were the big three teams and our realistic aim was certainly to win the championship. We are now very well placed to do that after our three wins, although there is much still to do.
The French have struggled so far in the 2003 competition but I would say that they badly missed Fabien Galthie, Tony Marsh and Pieter de Villiers against us. De Villiers especially was a massive loss because he makes a huge contribution in the loose and brings a lot to the French team. Whether those three would have made any difference against Ireland is, of course, impossible to say.
I would also like to mention David Humphreys' contribution - his kicking in such a blustery wind was nothing short of fantastic. We have two outstanding fly-halfs in David and Ronan O'Gara, who before Christmas hardly missed a kick, and we are very fortunate in that respect. A quality kicker is so important in modern rugby.
Our good position in the championship table, however, will only be maintained by another win on Saturday in a game which I expect to be unbelievably tough. The Welsh are playing fully for pride and they've been given a really hard time, but I know how much they will want to dig themselves out of their current hole. I do tip Ireland to win the game - we have the ability to do so - but we have to be focussed.
People will continue to talk about our potential final-day decider with England but there's no chance of us looking to that yet. Ireland have too much of a history of messing up matches which they are expected to win, though if we do come through the Wales game then obviously we are in a great position. I know now that I won't be ready in time to face England but I am not downhearted about that. I will take a great amount of pleasure from anything which the Irish achieve.