Ireland is perhaps one of the most dynamic teams at this years Rugby World Cup.
If you asked many a casual fan where they see Ireland, they probably wouldn’t go so far as placing them in the quarterfinal and no further.
However, the keen rugby heads out there will know that Ireland has all the makings of going all the way to the final.
Coming off back-to-back wins in the Six Nations, both this year and last, and up until a month ago, sitting at no. 2 in the World Rugby Rankings, there is no doubt that Ireland are a favoured team heading into RWC 2015.
Lets not forget their win over Australia in pool play in 2011, or their near-win over the All Blacks in 2012, losing only by a last minute drop goal.
They have the ability, the drive and the talent to go very far in this World Cup, and here is three things you need to know about them.
1. Quarter Final Curse
This looks to be the year that Ireland breaks their quarter-final curse – that is if they can beat France in pool play, to avoid the All Blacks.
The Irish have made it to the quarters in every tournament except 2007, where they were up against hosts France, and Argentina in the rather softly named “Pool of Death”, and in 1999, after being a victim of the tournament’s quarter-final playoffs structure.
Now, if they can reach the semi-finals, anything is possible.
Setting aside the recent lacklustre performance in the warm-up games, Ireland have a solid track record in tournaments (with back to back 6 nations wins) and tours.
This is definitely the year that they will break the quarter final curse.
2. The Ghost of Brian O’Driscoll
This is the first World Cup since 1999 that won’t feature legend of Irish Rugby Brian O’Driscoll and it is easy to assume that the team will feel the loss of their stalwart leader in the high pressure World Cup environment.
But the reality is, Ireland has improved since his departure, and the catalyst for that has been Coach Joe Schmidt.
Post O’Driscoll, the lads have retained the 6 Nations championship, beaten Australia and South Africa, and only marginally lost to New Zealand.
Schmidt’s strength is his ability to put together a team that highlights weaknesses in the opposition.
They may not have an awe inspiring superstar on the field, but Ireland is arguably a more cohesive team now than they have ever been.
Paul O’Connell has picked up the reigns, but the role of Captain is not as meaty as it used to be now that the team is being decisively lead from the top.
The reliance on the coach does come at a price; when it comes down to it Schmidt is restricted to the coaching box while all the real work is taking place. If a side can’t find their on-field direction without taking constant orders from their coach, then rugby will end up like soccer, and it’ll be Schmidt’s head at the end of the tournament if the Irish fail to perform.
3. The luck of the Irish
You certainly cannot write a review of the Irish without mentioning this…
They managed to land in the weakest pool of the tournament – avoiding all the Southern Hemisphere powerhouses, and their only real competition is France.
The World Cup format requires teams to play several high level games in a short period of time, a cakewalk during pool play means a team will be fresher, and less likely to be riddled with injury by the time they need to break out the big guns in the knockout stages.
The resent Irish performance against France has been good – with the Irish remaining unbeaten since 2013 (although they only matched up a couple of times).
France can be unpredictable early in the tournament and both teams will be under an inordinate amount of pressure to win the pool to avoid the tournament favorites, New Zealand in the quarter finals.
Many of the experts have picked it, and with good reason.
Ireland will win their pool, cruise past Argentina in the quarter finals, and scrape past Australia in the semis only to spectacularly fall against New Zealand in the finals.