THE Rugby World Cup takes place in France this autumn and after Ireland’s Grand Slam win, they feel like front-runners.
Ireland will face South Africa, Scotland, Tonga, and Romania in the group stages with the quarter-finals beginning in October.
While the success of the Six Nations campaign is an incredible achievement in itself, there is no hiding away from the fact that this is a World Cup year.
Following the triumph in the final game against England, Andy Farrell made it evidentially clear that this was part of the journey.
Farrell stated post-match: "This is part of the journey, isn’t it? Obviously, this stands out in its own right, as does the New Zealand tour."
But how difficult will it be for this Ireland squad to maintain the pressure and anticipation they have built up through their achievements?
The list of teams who have won a Six Nations Grand Slam and followed it up by hoisting the World Cup in the same year can be counted on one hand, with only Clive Woodward’s English previously achieving this feat back in 2003.
There is no reason, in theory, why this Irish squad cannot maintain the current momentum. The age-range of the group is solid and over the past number of weeks over 30 different players have taken to the field during the Six Nations.
This is all positive stuff looking ahead to the biggest rugby tournament in the world, but what is most striking of all was Ireland’s defense. Ireland conceded just six tries in their five games. Compare that to England who gave up an unprecedented 18 tried this year alone.
It is also worth mentioning that no Irish player received a card of any sort in the entire tournament, so discipline is no problem.
Of course, plenty can change in six months, but it seems like the gap between the northern and southern hemispheres is shrinking to the point of nothing.
If you look for a serious contender to upset Ireland’s chances of glory your money would be on tournament hosts France.
It's a well-known fact that French supporters are slow to leave their country to back their sporting sides, so having the World Cup on their doorstep will be a huge advantage for the team. France scored an average of 4.2 tries per game and created history against England scoring the highest-ever points total recorded in a Six Nations game.
But should an all-northern hemisphere final be remotely expected? Teams like Ireland and France have stepped up on numerous occasions against South Africa and New Zealand and often come out the better side of them.
What could possibly hinder this competition for Ireland is their opening game against South Africa. The current champions of the rugby world, regardless of recent international games, still pose a huge threat to Ireland’s World Cup dreams.
Before the World Cup gets underway, Ireland will take on the Autumn Internationals which will be a good stepping stone to see how the team's form will be before the big test in France.
The Six Nations championship and Grand Slam win will go down in history as Johnny Sexton cemented himself as the highest points scorer in the competition.
They should use these reasons to go and win the World Cup rather than letting them affect them in a negative way, which could happen to certain younger players.
There will obviously be players less experienced than others, but the coaching setup that has surrounded this Six Nations campaign have shown that these players on the outskirts are still involved with the wider squad.
Ireland on numerous occasions have proven their quality and ground out wins regardless of injuries or anything else that happens during a game.
They seem to be so well-knitted together that it will take a lot to beat Ireland.
A unity like this has been growing over the past number of years and feels like it peaking at the right time ahead of the World Cup this Autumn.