Andy Robinson, the former England player and coach, and ex-Wallaby Brendon Cannon have talked up Ireland’s chances of success at the 2007 Rugby World Cup.
Speaking at Setanta Sports’ launch of their World Cup coverage this week, Robinson was full of praise for Eddie O’Sullivan and the Ireland set-up.
‘”Eddie has a great team around him and a great set of players. A lot of it is to do with keeping your nerve. There is a belief within the Irish squad and the hard work will have been done by the time they arrive in France and the focus now has to be on themselves.
”They have to concentrate on themselves. All the talk about how other teams are playing isn’t their concern. They need to focus on what they have to do because they are something special,” he said.
But the former Bath flanker feels the World Cup scheduling could scupper Ireland’s chances of lifting the William Webb Ellis trophy – the men in green end their Pool D campaign with back-to-back clashes with hosts France and Argentina and then it is straight into the knockout stages should they progress.
“There is a difficulty for Ireland that no other side faces and that is to do with the scheduling. For Ireland to win the World Cup they will have to do something no other side has ever done and that is win five full-on Test matches back-to-back.
“With the scheduling the way it is, Ireland might find the going tough in those crucial last 15 minutes of a game, particularly in a quarter-final or semi-final, purely because of the toughness of each match they have to play,” Robinson conceded.
Ireland begin the tournament with games against two of world rugby’s lesser known nations – Namibia and Georgia – and Robinson does not see any reason why Brian O’Driscoll and his fellow frontliners should not play in those fixtures and get some valuable game-time.
“They should play (in the first two matches) – maybe for 20 or 30 minutes. It’s about balancing the team and getting the units playing, getting a feel of how they are playing together as a squad. They have to play but they also have to be prepared going into the France and Argentina games.”
Should Ireland see out on the pool stages as runners-up in Pool D, they are likely to face World Cup favourites New Zealand in a quarter-final in Cardiff, but Robinson sees no reason why the Triple Crown winners should fear the All Blacks.
“The All Blacks can be beaten. One of the most important things for the public in Ireland to do is to get behind the squad. Most teams lose to New Zealand because they lack the belief. When you play New Zealand you’ve got to match them toe to toe, and to do that you need the support of everyone around you,” he acknowledged.
“There is no doubt that Ireland have the potential to beat them. One of the key strengths Ireland have is Ronan O’Gara’s kicking game. His tactical kicking game is probably the best in the world. To win World Cup games you have to be tactically smart and Ireland can do that.”
Meanwhile, former Australian hooker Brendon Cannon, whose playing career was ended in April by a serious neck injury, has forecast that France 2007 is likely to be “the most even World Cup” in history.
“You’ve got Ireland, France, the All Blacks and South Africa all in the mix as well as Australia. Those five teams, on any given day, are capable of beating each other and Ireland, to me, are the big improvers,” he told Australia’s Daily Telegraph.
“The brand of football they have played has been impressive. Then you’ve got France who you know are going to be hard to beat in their own backyard.
“As for the Wallabies, there would not have been a lot of optimism around the place before the start of the year.
“But the results they’ve achieved this season, and the confidence they’ve been building, they’re a better than even-money chance to cause an upset and win it.”