Monday, September 16, 2019

Will there be life after the quarter-finals for Ireland at the World Cup?

Ireland squad huddle at RWC training in Japan
©INPHO Dan Sheridan
Anyone suffering from pre-Rugby World Cup anxiety that is fortunate enough to have a bit of time on their hands can attempt to try and calm their nerves by popping over to the official 2019 Rugby World Cup site to play what they have called their ‘Tournament Bracket’. Basically, you select the winners of the various pools and then follow the pattern to the quarters, semis and of course, eventually the final.

If you’re Irish, however, this could indeed have the opposite effect and only serve to stir up more apprehension.

The problems don’t really lie in Pool A for Ireland with a relatively straightforward task at hand to get to the quarter-finals. The only real sides that could cause the Irish any headaches are Scotland and Japan, the latter not purely because they are at home but also because they have come on leaps and bounds over the last few years. It may also be worth mentioning that once an underdog gets the taste of an upset, especially in these huge world tournaments, they often come back believing they can do it again, which is half the battle won.

A quick glance back to the 2015 World Cup should serve as ample warning for the Irish.

It was the Springboks that opened the door for Japan back in 2015 when  the upset of the tournament took place down on the seaside in Brighton. Ever since then the Brave Blossoms have trawled the waters of world rugby ready to pounce should they smell blood, make no mistake, Ireland will have to be wary but not afraid. Japan’s sole purpose will be to make it out of the group which will undoubtedly constitute a successful campaign. If we’re being realistic, Scotland are probably more in danger of being overrun by the charged-up hosts with Ireland extremely likely to finish on top of Pool A.

So far so good, so why all the dire warnings you say?

Lying in wait for Ireland will be New Zealand or South Africa which could very well spell the end of Irish hopes at the 2019 World Cup. Both of these two nations have been priced as the two favourites in the Rugby World Cup 2019 odds and on paper, there doesn’t seem to be a harder fixture for any team than playing these southern hemisphere juggernauts. The question is: which of these two old foes would offer the easier route to the semi-final?

Going on momentum and momentum alone, you would have to say New Zeland would be the easier game at this moment in time. There will be a few reading this who would have by now have already spat their Guinness out and are currently on the end of a few suspicious looks at their local pub after reading that, but it is true.

The All Blacks over the last 12 months have begun to show their frailties and were even unable to win the Rugby Championship this year instead, losing out to the impressive Springboks. Rassie Erasmus' side are without a doubt a team on the up and possibly the best side at this year’s World Cup.
That said, the All Blacks will still pose an almighty problem for Ireland but not an insurmountable one. Put it this way, you would rather play New Zealand now more than any time over the last eight years.

No team in this year’s tournament will find winning the World Cup easy and you’ve probably heard someone say already that this will be the ‘closest World Cup in years’. In Ireland’s case, it just gets a lot harder a lot sooner.

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