As the players settle into their first training base in New Zealand, captain Brian O’Driscoll has insisted Ireland have travelled south without ‘any scars’ from last month’s run of Test defeats.
After Thursday’s rapturous welcome by the locals, it was back to work for the Ireland squad today as they utilised the excellent Queenstown Events Centre facilities for training purposes.
28 of the selected 30-man panel are currently present, with Gordon D’Arcy (calf) and Cian Healy (eye socket) flying out of Dublin Airport on Saturday to join them.
D’Arcy underwent a scan on his calf and has been given the all-clear to travel. He will be assessed again in the coming days, with regards to his availability for the Pool C opener against the USA.
Sunday week’s game in New Plymouth is expected to come too soon for Healy, but Rob Kearney, who was nursing a groin strain, is on course to feature against Eddie O’Sullivan’s side.
Ireland defence coach Les Kiss explained: “We know that Cian and Gordon are coming down to us and the latest information is that they are on track.
“Rob trained for part of the session (on Friday) but he will be in full training this coming week as will Sean O’Brien, so everything seems to be pulling in the right direction. Cian is the only one that may have a little bit of doubt over him at this stage.”
Asked if the four Test losses in their warm-up schedule have dented the squad’s spirit, Brian O’Driscoll said: “I don’t think we necessarily needed to put a spring in our step. We feel confident and we’re looking forward to the games.
“We’re not bringing any scars from the last month with us, it’s all about the start of the World Cup.”
O’Driscoll sat out last weekend’s GUINNESS Summer Series clash with England because of a knock to his shoulder, but remains confident that he will be fit to lead the team against the Americans.
“The shoulder feels okay. I was training away earlier, though granted we didn’t do too much contact.
“The more rest time I get, the better. At this moment in time I don’t see any reason why I won’t be playing against the USA.”
Ireland will be heavy favourites to open their World Cup campaign with a win, before they take on newly-crowned Tri Nations champions Australia in a possible pool decider six days later.
However, O’Driscoll has learnt from past experiences that the lower-ranked sides can never been underestimated at international level.
They will be sticking rigidly to the game-by-game approach which served them so well during the 2009 Grand Slam run.
“Australia are ranked second in the world and are going to be huge and a very tough team to beat,” he admitted.
“But we learnt in 2007 that there are no pushover Test matches. We had it hard against a couple of lesser-known international nations (in Namibia and Georgia).
“We certainly won’t be taking anything for granted. We’ll focus on our first game and take it from there.”
Those sentiments were echoed by head coach Declan Kidney, who said: “History has shown us that there’s no such thing as an easy Test match, especially when it comes to the World Cup.
“Australia will be on a high. They’re Tri Nations champions and have had a good couple of weeks in the lead-up to the World Cup. But we play America first and expect them to be full on.”
With its backdrop of snow-peaked mountain ranges and reputation as an adventure sports haven, Queenstown has given the players a change of scenery that they are clearly relishing – judging by their post-training dip in Lake Wakatipu.
And while white water rafting and snowboarding have wisely been deemed ‘off limits’ by the management, the players will still get a chance to enjoy some of the resort town’s other attractions.
“There won’t be any lockdown. It would be awful to come to Queenstown and not see it properly,” explained Kidney, with the squad and management stationed here until next Thursday.
“It’s a smashing spot. The way our matches are, this World Cup is more like a tour. Queenstown is as good a place as any to start.
“When we landed and were hit with that reception (yesterday), we knew we were in the biggest rugby tournament in the world. It was a special occasion.
“The backdrop we were playing against today is not something you see too often – it was pretty spectacular.”