Ireland have never made it through the quarter-final stage of the World Cup, going out on no less than six occasions in seven tournament appearances, failing to get out of the “Pool of Death” in 2007 behind France and Argentina.
The Irish have always struggled against the southern hemisphere teams, normally finishing second in their pool then falling to defeat against the likes of Australia or New Zealand at the last eight stage. This summer Ireland will be hoping for a change in fortunes having recorded victories over Australia and South Africa in their most recent meetings last November.
The victories over Australia and South Africa came during the Autumn internationals which finished 2014 just as strongly as it began, having won the Six Nations. This run of good form continued into the 2015 Six Nations where Ireland secured victories over France, Italy, Scotland and England to retain the title for the first time in their history.
The recent warm-up games are difficult to judge with both Joe Schmidt and his respective opposite numbers choosing to try different players and combinations, as they should, in a bid to find out what works.
None of the XV’s that started any of the warm up games will line up against Canada on September 19. Ireland will bring confidence into the World Cup games knowing that for the last two years they have been able to stand toe to toe with the best in the world and manage to come out victorious more times than not.
Ireland have been drawn in a tough group with two other northern hemisphere teams in France and Italy providing the main competition along with Romania and Canada, ranked 17th and 18th in the world respectively. With Ireland having recorded victories over France, 18-11, and Italy, 26-3 at this year’s Six Nations they will be confident of topping the pool.
France face Italy in the first pool game allowing the Ireland staff to get a good look at the competition and get a plan in place how to go about securing a victory. By topping the pool, Ireland are likely to secure a quarter-final tie with Argentina which is significantly more desirable than finishing in the runner-up spot which would almost certainly result in a tough game against reigning champions New Zealand.
The fixtures are favourable, especially for the Irish fans with three of the four games kicking off at 4.45pm. The games themselves being played at the Millennium Stadium, the new Olympic Stadium and home of football Wembley Stadium will be an experience for the players and spectators, attracting large crowds creating that typical Irish atmosphere.
In order for Ireland to have a successful World Cup, they will need their key players to be on top form. Players such as Captain Paul O’Connell and experienced hooker Rory Best will be instrumental in ensuring that the set pieces are accurate allowing the Irishmen to make the most of any territorial advantages at both the line-out and the scrum.
In the back line Ireland will be looking to Rob Kearney to have an improved tournament having been under par at the Six Nations but he has the quality in his catching of high balls and returning kicks to punish anything loose from the opposition.
If Ireland are to win the World Cup a lot will depend on the form of fly-half Jonathan Sexton, having spent two seasons with Racing Metro he has now returned to Leinster. The goal kicking skills he possesses will be important in keeping the scoreboard ticking over and punishing opponents for any indiscipline.
The skill Sexton has to control territory for Ireland will help the forwards put pressure on their opposite numbers and force errors leading to tries or penalties which is how Ireland will win games.
With Ireland’s recent form and the players that they have at their disposal anything less than a semi-final appearance would have to be deemed a failure for Joe Schmidt. The added emotion of Paul O’Connell’s last appearance in an Ireland shirt should not be underestimated and it would be no surprise if Ireland went all the way to lift the trophy.
The challenge will come ensuring they win the group and avoid New Zealand, but with now getting used to the “favourites” tag the gulf between them and the southern hemisphere sides is not as significant as it once was and Ireland will definitely be one of the teams to watch this summer.
Ireland Rugby World Cup squad
Forwards: Rory Best, Sean Cronin, Richardt Strauss, Tadhg Furlong, Cian Healy, Jack McGrath, Mike Ross, Nathan White, Iain Henderson, Paul O’Connell, Donnacha Ryan, Devin Toner, Jamie Heaslip, Jordi Murphy, Sean O’Brien, Peter O’Mahoney
Backs: Conor Murray, Eoin Reddan, Paddy Jackson, Ian Madigan, Jonathan Sexton, Darren Cave, Keith Earls, Robbie Henshaw, Jared Payne, Tommy Bowe, Luke Fitzgerald, Dave Kearney, Rob Kearney, Simon Zebo.