After an Autumn to remember we take a look at why Ireland must now be considered serious contenders for next years World Cup;
1.They’ve now beaten all but the best in the world
Beating the Wallabies is no mean feat, however their recent victory over the Springboks must be considered a serious achievement. There aren’t many sides who can toppled the Boks, and Ireland proved with clinical efficiency they are more than capable of going toe-to-toe with the second best team in the world. It was no lucky win either as the way Ireland played indicated they would be more than capable of doing it again. It’s also important to remember they weren’t far off beating the All Blacks last year either.
2.The half back pairing
Connor Murray and in particular Johnny Sexton have really come into their own over the last 12 months. On current form both look capable of challenging any half back pairing in the world. Their decision making and game management are second to none right now and was a key factor in their recent Autumn whitewash. If both Murray and Sexton can stay fit until the World Cup then there’s no doubting they will both be key members of Ireland’s challenge for the World Cup next year.
3.They have serious strength in depth
Ireland’s game against Georgia may not have been the toughest test they will play before the World Cup, but what it did prove is that they have some serious strength in depth. The Georgian pack is one of the most powerful in European rugby so for a second string Irish pack to eventually come out on top is impressive in itself. It seems that no matter where you look in the current Ireland squad, there is competition for every place with a number of ambitious young players snapping at the heels of more established squad members.
4.The return of fallen heroes
It’s also important to remember that Ireland achieved two of their biggest victories under Joe Schmidt (the Wallabies & Springboks) without key players like Dave Kearney, Cian Healy and Sean O’Brien. Although there’s no doubt both O’Brien and Healy will be involved in the Ireland squad for the World Cup if fit, they may find it a bit harder to get back into the starting XV than in previous years. Either way both these players offer a significant presence on the field and provide additional bally carrying options in the pack.
5.The kicking game
At the moment Ireland seem to be the only side in the Northern Hemisphere capable of using their kickers to effectively play for territory. Johnny Sexton in particular has been magnificent for the most part (bar a few moments in the Wallabies game) at kicking for territory and ensuring Ireland are in control, even when they don’t have the ball. It is an area where Southern Hemisphere sides have excelled in recent years, but it looks like Ireland are now ready to take them on in this regard.
News emerged after Ireland’s victory over the Wallabies that Head Coach Joe Schmidt had attended the match despite needing his appendix removed immediately after. It is this kind of determination and willpower that he has instilled into his players to make them one of the most competitive in world rugby. Not only this but he has helped develop Ireland’s tactical nous as demonstrated by their impressive maul defence against the Boks, and the way in which Sexton’s tactical kicking has improved.
7.They know how to win
Where as last year Ireland faltered in the dying minutes against the All Blacks, this time around it seems they have learnt from their mistakes and know how to close games out. It’s all well and good being the best team on the pitch, but a game of rugby can turn on the bounce of a ball and it seems Ireland are now more prepared than ever to deal with whatever comes at them. Their ability to play rugby and win despite not seeing the ball for large periods is a further indicator of their ability to win in any conditions.
8.No one else in the northern hemisphere comes close
After running out comfortable winners in this years Six Nations, it looks like Ireland are set to repeat the feat again this time around. On current form it’s hard to see any of the other Six Nations sides challenging Ireland for the title in 2015. Now obviously the World Cup is about one-off games but given Ireland look like they could beat any northern hemisphere side, and have so far beaten the Springboks and the Wallabies, they now just need to overcome their All Blacks hoodoo to be in with a serious chance of World Cup glory.
9.The blend of youth and experience
Wherever you look in the Ireland squad there are experienced players being challenged by younger rising stars. In the midfield you have the likes of Robbie Henshaw or Gordon D’Arcy or in the second row Dave Foley or Paul O’Connell. It is clear that to win a World Cup you need experience in the side, but you also need players who aren’t as burdened by the weight of expectation, who can make something happen out of nothing. It seems that right now Ireland have the perfect combination of both.
Do you think Ireland can win the World Cup?