Profile of Ireland ahead of the 2015 Rugby Union World Cup being hosted by England and Wales.
LONDON, ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM (SEPTEMBER 4, 2015) (REUTERS) – Having made flattering to deceive an art form in recent Rugby World Cups, Ireland can justifiably say this time they really are different when they make the short trip across the Irish sea as genuine contenders.
Winners of successive Six Nations titles, Ireland are loaded with experience, possess world class operators such as Paul O’Connell, Jonathan Sexton and Jamie Heaslip and, in Joe Schmidt, are coached by one of the sharpest minds in the game.
They have also made a useful habit of winning. By the end of this year’s Six Nations, Ireland had won 14 and lost four under the former Leinster coach, including 11 wins in the last 12.
Were it not for a last gasp Ryan Crotty try when Schmidt faced his native New Zealand in his third game in charge, Ireland would be travelling to the tournament with wins against each of the game’s top eight nations under their belt.
Yet among those teams, only Ireland have failed to get beyond the quarter-finals at seven World Cup attempts. There have been disasters, near misses and disappointments but there can be no excuses this time around, particularly with a kind draw.
Assuming no slipups against Italy, Ireland will face France in a group decider in Cardiff on Oct. 11. The losers will almost certainly face New Zealand in the last eight while the winners are likely to get Argentina and a spot in the opposite half of the draw.
Ireland’s direct, powerful rugby and strong defence, which conceded just three tries in this year’s Six Nations, has proved too much for Philippe Saint-Andre’s men of late but France have a fine World Cup record and a ‘Plan B’ may be required.
Schmidt bristled at recent comments from Wales’ coach Warren Gatland that Ireland play a restricted game and only Scotland scored fewer Six Nations tries this year.
But Gatland also acknowledged that no coach was going to show anything like his full hand ahead of a World Cup and, when Ireland need to, they can play attractive rugby. It is also worth remembering that Schmidt’s Leinster team have played some of the most devastating attacking rugby in Europe.
Building a style and gameplan around accuracy has been successful so far for Ireland. They may just be a couple of minor adjustments away from finally fulfilling their World Cup ambitions.