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World Cup Preview

World Cup Preview

“It’s not inconceivable that even with four very good performances, Ireland could still find themselves out after the first round” Jim O’Connor says, previewing the 2003 World Cup.

“It’s not inconceivable that even with four very good performances, Ireland could still find themselves out after the first round” Jim O’Connor says, previewing the 2003 World Cup.

The nerves are beginning to show, the fingers are beginning to twitch and time seems to be passing incredibly slowly. The last few day’s wait before a tournament begins are the hardest to take and that’s just for the supporters! God only knows how the players are feeling.

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Just a couple of days before the whole things kicks off and Irish fans still find themselves engulfed in questions.
Are Hayes, Kelly and Shane Horgan really fit?
Can we beat the Argentinians with our scrum, even if Hayes is fit?
How will Australia respond to being the home team and will they raise their game accordingly?
Will the Aussie media take us to town like they did with the Lions?
Could Argentina even beat Australia in the opener and if they did, where would that leave us?

Around the bars and rugby clubs these discussions will have driven fans to the point of madness, but soon they will start to have their answers, the hard facts to back up or disprove their theories.

Ireland are truly in the group of death. It’s not inconceivable that even with four very good performances, Ireland could still find themselves out after the first round. That would effectively put Ireland back to the level of four years ago after Lens. It would be a crushing blow after all the progress that Ireland have undoubtedly made in the last four years. Yet, this remains a worse case scenario, and while it’s correct to respect your opponents Ireland should not forget their own considerable strengths.

Ireland’s first two opponents are Romania and Namibia and Ireland will be expected to win both games easily. However, both will have to be shown respect.

The Romanians showed in Limerick last year that they are capable of being awkward opponents to subdue. Many of their players play club rugby in France so they have a decent pedigree.

Less is known about Namibia but they too cannot be underestimated . They have been hit by a wealth of financial and personnel problems in the run-up to the tournament. They certainly seem a million miles away from when they actually beat Ireland 2-0 in a series in the run up to the 1991 World Cup. However sometimes adversary can galvanise a team.

Realistically though, Eddie O’Sullivan will hope to see his side hit the ground running against both sides. He will want to see Ireland immediately begin to work their phases through the game plan. He will also want to see eighty minutes concentration in both games because when they meet Argentina they will definitely need to play for the full game.

The Argentinian game is most likely to be the key encounter. Much has been written of the Argentinians powerful scrum but this sometimes obscures what is an excellent all-round team. While Ireland have improved in the four years since Lens, so too have Argentina. Agustin Pichot could lay claim to be the world’s best scrum-half and with the likes of Ignacio Corleto, Diego Albanese and Jose Maria Nunez Piossek in the back three, they have proven finishers.
Their pack is immensely physical and very experienced. However, that could prove to be a problem as the pack has been around so long. Take Rolando Martin, the veteran open-side. He’s 35 now and you must wonder how much longer he can sustain his performance level. He’s not the only one. The average age of the likely starting pack is 31. You’ll be familiar with the names of Federico Mendez, Pedro Sporleader, Roberto Grau, Mauricio Reggiarado, Gonzalo Longo and Santiago Phelan because they seem to have been around forever. They remain a formidable pack but it must be a concern that at least a couple of younger guys haven’t forced their way onto the team.

Time waits for no man and eventually this team will hit a wall. Whether it will happen in this World Cup remains to be seen.

Needless to say the result against Argentina will have huge bearing on the approach to the Australian game. If they beat Argentina, Ireland will have nothing to lose against Australia and will approach the game with great confidence. However if Ireland lose then they will be under huge pressure against Australia. Having to beat the home side in order to qualify is not an appealing prospect.

The Australians themselves have not been in the greatest form but their demise has been overstated. First and foremost they are still the home team and the advantage that brings is huge, especially in rugby. They also still have a selection of world-class backs like Mat Rodgers, Stirling Mortlock, Lote Tuquiri, Joe Roff, Stephen Larkham and Wendell Sailor to call on. Matt Burke and George Gregan have struggled with their form of late but you can see them lifting it for one last shot at the World Cup.

Their pack is undoubtedly weakened by the loss of Toutai Kefu but they remain a very respectable unit. The experiment of playing two open-sides in George Smith and Phil Waugh has been a reasonable success and Kefu’s likely replacement David Lyons takes a fair bit of stopping.

Their tight five features few world-beaters but they are far from the paper tigers some elements of the British media have labeled them. Bill Young, Brendan Cannon and newcomer Alistair Baxter form a decent front row and David Giffin is a class operator in the second-row.

The opening game of the competition, Australia’s clash with Argentina, will tell Eddie O’Sullivan a lot about he has to do to qualify. Many Irish fans will be taking the morning off in order to catch it live on television. But there’s still 72 hours and counting of waiting to be done before the first kick-off is taken in the 2003 World Cup.