Ireland coach Eddie O’Sullivan believes his side’s poor display at the World Cup was “just a blip”, adding that he has the appetite to see out his new four-year contract and turn Ireland’s fortunes around again.
Ireland’a abrupt exit from the tournament has left players, coaches and supporters alike baffled as to what exactly went wrong in France. Some are pointing the finger of blame at the coaching staff but with the firm backing of the IRFU, O’Sullivan is determined to carry on and see out the four-year contract he signed in August.
“My contract with the IRFU runs for another while and I intend to see it out. Of course I expect the IRFU to honour the contract and there is no question or doubt that I have the appetite for the job. If I felt I hadn’t the ability I wouldn’t take the job on,” O’Sullivan admitted.
“I went into discussion with the IRFU three months ago at their (the IRFU’s) behest. We talked about going forward over four years. They had taken that decision long before the World Cup and it was taken knowing that we were going into the World Cup where we would be in a very difficult group.”
So the coach’s overall assessment of the tournament from an Irish perspective? “We came to this World Cup with very high hopes and expectations and those expectations were well-founded. They were based on the fact that we played some great rugby in the last year. Unfortunately we haven’t reproduced that form in the tournament,” he conceded.
“That’s been hugely disappointing for us. It hasn’t been for the lack of blood, sweat and tears from the lads.
“We have to factor into that we were coming into a pool that was regarded as the most difficult in the tournament. I wouldn’t use the word disaster – I think very disappointing is fairer.”
Although he was not making an excuse out of it, O’Sullivan felt that the timing of this year’s World Cup was a factor in the sluggish starts which his own team and their Six Nations opponents made to the tournament – Ireland, Italy and Wales all paid the price for flat opening performances by missing out on quarter-final qualification.
“Having the window for the World Cup in September…that puts the Northern Hemisphere sides under severe pressure to get their A game together. If I could have changed things in the build-up, I would have played a lot more rugby in July and August.
“In retrospect, we might have learnt a lesson there. Maybe the Six Nations teams will say the next World Cup can’t be in the first month of the season,” he said.
“The Southern Hemisphere are now where we are in January. That’s not an excuse as we also feel we haven’t played to our potential.”
Nonetheless, O’Sullivan remains confident that Ireland can bounce back from their World Cup disappointment to challenge for Six Nations honours in 2008, adding: “This tournament was a huge disappointment. We want to look to the next tournament and ask can we get back to our previous level of performance. I would say yes in all confidence and I would mean it. This is just a blip.”