Sarah O'Dwyer: Irish rugby fans dare to dream about World Cup after impressive Autumn run

Andy Farrell's side have ticked all the boxes this season but the real challenge will be at the World Cup
Sarah O'Dwyer: Irish rugby fans dare to dream about World Cup after impressive Autumn run

Ireland's Peter O'Mahony wins a lineout against Australia. Picture: INPHO/Bryan Keane

THERE have been quite a few positives from Ireland’s recent Autumn Nations Series. 

The Boys in Green have held their own against massively strong opposition and proven themselves worthy of their world number-one ranking.

We have seen young players rise to the challenge when called upon and we have seen Ireland head coach Andy Farrell commended for his hard work with a nomination for world coach of the year.

The Englishman has said he was embarrassed to be nominated for the accolade ahead of last weekend’s victory over Australia in the final test match.

Following a Triple Crown win at the Six Nations, and a series win in New Zealand, as well as beating current world champions South Africa, Ireland made their way to the top of the world rankings, where they currently sit ahead of second-placed France and third-placed New Zealand.

Ireland did lose to France in Paris this year and lost one game against New Zealand as part of that series, but otherwise have a clean record this year.

What this team has shown, especially in the younger players coming through, is that they can adapt under pressure.

A fine example was the young Jack Crowley who was called in to start at the very last minute against Australia last weekend. He replaced Jonathan Sexton, who suffered a calf injury in the warm-up, so late in the day that he even had to wear his jersey. He had only 20 senior appearances under his belt and made his Irish debut just a week previously against Fiji where he came off the bench.

Ireland's Jack Crowley battles with Australia's Cadeyrn Neville. Picture: PA
Ireland's Jack Crowley battles with Australia's Cadeyrn Neville. Picture: PA

The 22-year-old slotted over a penalty and scored the conversion after Bundee Aki scored a try.

After the game, Peter O’Mahony said: “It was a big ask for a young man to come in and play 70 minutes against a team as good as that, and then to come out on top.

It’s easy to see he is a good kid, he is hungry to learn, he is hugely ambitious, he has no fear of asking questions or saying the wrong thing. 

It’s refreshing to see someone that age getting stuck in and enjoying it and putting a performance like that in. It’s great for him.”

While the omens a year out from a World Cup look good in most areas, there are still some worries hanging over the squad.

Ireland defeated Fiji a week previous to the Australia game 35-17, but Farrell wasn’t happy with what he saw.

But, on the flip side, victory against Australia saw the Irish team match their 2016 achievement of beating them, New Zealand, and South Africa in a single calendar year.

Following the win over the Wallabies in Dublin last weekend, Farrell was asked where Ireland stand going into 2023 with the World Cup coming up: “With a lot to do, which is great, and that’s the reality.

“We’ve certain aspects of our game, as always, that we’d love to get better at,” he added.

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell. Picture: INPHO/Bryan Keane
Ireland head coach Andy Farrell. Picture: INPHO/Bryan Keane

The omens looked good ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup for Ireland too and they were beaten at the quarter-final stages by New Zealand 46-14. They were also beaten in the group stages by Japan 19-12. Ireland beat Samoa, Russia and Scotland in their other group games.

Ireland have never made it past the quarter-finals of the competition, despite the calibre of players on the squads over the years. That is a concern.

After the quarter-final defeat in 2019, then-captain Rory Best was asked why the Irish team struggle so much when it comes to the knock-out stages of the World Cup.

“I’m not sure,” he said. “Everyone talks about the pressure that’s on the All Blacks before quarter-finals but when you haven’t won one and you feel you have a great coaching set-up and great group of players, then maybe you put too much pressure on.”

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Ireland have both of those things going into the 2023 World Cup too. They have been drawn against Romania, Tonga, South Africa and Scotland in Pool B of the tournament, with the games taking place in September and October 2023.

The IRFU launched its Strategic Plan 2018-2023 — Irish Rugby: ‘Building Success Together’ in late 2018, and it outlined the aim for Ireland to reach the semi-finals or better at both the Rugby World Cup in 2019 – which was not achieved – and the 2023 iteration of the tournament. It remains to be seen whether that goal can be reached, but Ireland look to be in the best shape they have ever been to do it.

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