The Irish challenge for the RWC

Garth Hamilton Roar Guru

By Garth Hamilton, Garth Hamilton is a Roar Guru

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    With the Tri Nations now safely wrapped up in All Black arms having sized up the strengths of their fellow southern hemisphere world cup challengers, its time to turn our attention back to the north and consider the merits of the best of the northern hemisphere’s teams. First up, the runners up in this year’s Six Nations competition, Ireland.

    Many pundits have named the men in green, coupled with the French, as being the best chances the northern hemisphere have of retaining the World Cup. There is always a touch of ‘the best of the rest’ about such compliments, especially when they come from southern hemisphere commentators. Given New Zealand’s dominance of all and sundry over the last couple of seasons this is to be expected however as Australia recently showed, the All Blacks can be beaten and by worse teams than Ireland.

    The two areas where the improving Wallabies troubled New Zealand in this year’s Bledisloe cup games were the lineout and the midfield. In both these areas the Irish are very strong.

    The Irish midfield’s qualities are well known and the combination of Ronan O’Gara, Gordon D’Arcy and Brian O’Driscoll can cause any team difficulty. O’Driscoll is a much more dangerous ball carrier than Australia’s main strike weapon, Stirling Mortlock, and in Denis Hickie, Shane Horgan, Girvan Dempsey and Geordan Murphy Ireland have the sort of traditional finishers that running-rugby teams need.

    Marshalled by the red-haired Munster captain, Paul O’Connell, the Irish lineout is as strong as the rest of their forward game. Last November in torrential rain at Landsdowne Road the Irish forwards were able to inflict their will on the touring Wallaby pack in a way that not even the All Blacks have been able to do for a long time. That game was played tight and hard however the backrow of Denis Leamy, Simon Easterby and Neil Best excel at supporting their talented backline out wide.

    Where Australia have the advantage over Ireland is in their defence, their knowledge of the New Zealand players and their experience of having beaten them, something the Irish have never done. In 2006 the Irish troubled the All Blacks at home and with 20 minutes remaining in the first test the Irish held a well deserved 23 – 15 lead before being overrun amidst four Luke McAllister penalties to lose 34 – 23. The Irish grit continued in the second test before the home side won out 27 – 17.

    Despite the efforts of this tour the best Ireland have to show for their encounters with the All Blacks is 19 losses and a 10-all draw way back in 1973. That is a rather large monkey to have on a team’s back however if the two teams meet in the world cup, the All Blacks won’t be without their own monkey – consecutive semi-final defeats will surely be reminded them many times until that spell is broken.

    A shot at New Zealand is not however guaranteed and Ireland face the most difficult of passages to the finals. Inclusion in Pool C, the somewhat dramatically titled pool of death, means a hard struggle against both France and Argentina. The Pumas thrive on field position and forward dominance and despite their international ranking still seem to catch teams off guard with their confrontational play. Should a trigger happy referee be appointed for either of Argentina’s clashes with France or Ireland, the Argentine mantra of field position and penalties could prove dangerous, particularly for the French who have struggled with on field discipline in the past.

    Qualifying first in Pool C means the only time Ireland will play New Zealand is if both teams make the final. Qualifying second in this pool means a quarter final showdown against New Zealand, the unbackable favourites to qualify atop Pool D. Ireland have yet to move passed the quarter final stage and the canny planning of coach O’Sullivan will not have over looked this possibility.

    Elimination at quarter final stage is something that very few kiwi supporters will have even dignified with serious consideration. However to O’Sullivan and the Irish team, defeating the All Blacks in the quarter finals must be a very real prospect if they dare to dream of world cup glory.

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    The Crowd Says (24)

    • July 26th 2007 @ 5:06pm
      Shah Sahari said | July 26th 2007 @ 5:06pm | ! Report

      Yes, Ireland could have and should have beaten the All Blacks in the first test on their last visit down under. I think the Irish have the beating of anyone if they are on song. Teams will write off the Irish at their own peril. The only thing about them is they perform best when they are underdogs, not when the yare cosndiered favourites so it will suit them to fly under the radar.

      Unfortunately they are in the customary group of death at the RWC and, sadly, one of Ireland, Argentina and France will be gone before the quarterfinals. How did this draw happen? On what basis were the teams pooled?

    • July 26th 2007 @ 6:47pm
      tongstar said | July 26th 2007 @ 6:47pm | ! Report

      i’ve been a fan of the irish since they developed some backs to work around driscoll.

      anyone game to give me odds for Ire vs Aus final?

    • July 26th 2007 @ 8:21pm
      Phil said | July 26th 2007 @ 8:21pm | ! Report

      “Unfortunately they are in the customary group of death at the RWC and, sadly, one of Ireland, Argentina and France will be gone before the quarterfinals. How did this draw happen? On what basis were the teams pooled?”

      To make Test Match rugby relevant again in the gap years between World Cups, the IRB need to comes up with a rankings system that rewards teams that play well in the lead up to the World Cup. Maybe Ireland would have a better draw and Australia & England a tougher one like they deserve…

      It will never happen and once the next World Cup comes around again we’ll be able to predict who will be in the Semi’s from a year out, just like always.


    • July 26th 2007 @ 9:02pm
      sheek said | July 26th 2007 @ 9:02pm | ! Report

      Agree the pool draw is a disgrace. This is the problem of determining seeds from the previous WC. Like Soccer, seedings should be made only 2 years out.

      Seeds from 2003 are 1&8; 2&7; 3&6; 4&5. Positions 9 to 16 are then determined by a combination of geographical location & strength.

      I like Ireland. They are the “sleeper” of the tournament. It would do the romance of the WC an enormous amount of good if Ireland prevailed (I think they have either shared, or finished 2nd, in each of the past five 6Ns).

      New Zealand however, is one country determined to ensure that Ireland doesn’t win the WC!

    • July 26th 2007 @ 10:44pm
      jools-usa said | July 26th 2007 @ 10:44pm | ! Report

      Don’t agree that Ireland are the “sleeper”.
      Just saw the 6-nation Ire/Pom match at Twickenham earlier this year & they were
      very lucky to beat an England team that (for once) ran hard up the middle & actually looked like a southern team.
      O’Connell, along with Matfield, is in my World XV, & BOD is v good, but we see these guys playing 6-N when there’s room to move yet when they meet OZ/NZ /SA the space is not there.
      No, I think the dark-horse will be Argentine and most dangerous from North is France who on their day are agile enough to overcome Southern defence.

    • July 26th 2007 @ 11:04pm
      DF6 said | July 26th 2007 @ 11:04pm | ! Report

      For Ireland to be a threat they will need to rely on BOD to play somewhereclose to his best for atleast 5 games, thats a tough ask, NZ AUS SA and france all have Depth in Talent where as Ireland are probably 3 or 4 men short, i mean real class players

      Why do they make the pools for the world cup on the finishing of the last world cup? england were thenumber 1 team that year but havent been since, scotland should not havetheir seeding and argentina should, the all blacks actually have a really bad pool in terms of quality of opposition