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It has been a hugely successful start to 2018 for Irish Rugby, with Ireland seemingly peaking at just the right time ahead of next year’s Rugby Union World Cup in Japan.
Since the 2015 World Cup, it has been England who many fancied to be challenging the All Blacks in Japan next year. However, Eddie Jones’ side have endured a contrasting start to the calendar year, with an indifferent Six Nations campaign backed up with a poor tour of South Africa, where weaknesses were highlighted.
Whilst Jones and England feel the pressure, everyone is getting excited about Joe Schmidt and his Irish side, who at this current time, are playing a winning brand of rugby, at just the right time as the World Cup approaches.
England entered the Six Nations in early 2018 looking to make a statement, but it was Ireland who did just that, blitzing their way to a Grand Slam, showing real grit to edge out France to set them on their way, before rounding off the tournament with a rare win at Twickenham over a below-par England side.
In case you've been hiding under a rock...here is your 2018 #NatWest6Nations table!
— Six Nations Rugby (@SixNationsRugby) March 18, 2018
Then, this summer, whilst England’s tour of South Africa hasn’t gone to plan, Ireland have excelled in Australia, firmly putting New Zealand’s biggest Southern Hemisphere challengers in their place, by coming from behind and securing a 2-1 series victory over the Wallabies.
Ireland’s victory in Australia might not have been as emphatic as England’s there in 2016, but the timing of it couldn’t be better, with Schmidt’s side really hitting their straps at a crucial time of the four year period.
Currently, Ireland are priced at 9/2 to win the World Cup next year, with bet365’s rugby union betting markets seeing them as New Zealand’s biggest challenge in Japan, with England’s odds continuing to drift to 9/1 following their defeat in South Africa.
Bigger tests are to come now, with the pressure really on all the big nations set to compete in Japan next year. Ireland will face New Zealand again in the autumn, which will give Schmidt a real idea of how close his side are to challenging for the World Cup.
A series win in Australia. What an end to an incredible season. Thanks for all your support. #TeamOfUs #ShouldertoShoulder #AUSvIRL pic.twitter.com/06FDEcercD— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) June 23, 2018
The rest of Ireland’s autumn internationals shouldn’t teach us too much, with the USA, Argentina and Italy all set to take on Schmidt’s side.
However, following that, Ireland will be looking to defend their Six Nations crown, starting against England, who could be coming out of the autumn in a confident mood.
Another Six Nations crown would be huge for Ireland, particularly with the World Cup later in 2019, but also for Schmidt’s side to cement themselves as the Northern Hemisphere’s biggest contenders.
For now, plenty of English supporters aren’t taking Ireland seriously, with it their view that Eddie Jones’ side will still be the ones to challenge New Zealand, despite the two nations enduring differing starts to the calendar year. Ireland won’t care, though, they find themselves in a fantastic position having started the year magnificently. In each performance, you can see confidence grow and by the time Japan comes, Schmidt’s side could be ready to do something special.