By Andrew Baldock, PA Rugby Union Correspondent
Steve Hansen believes that Ireland will face “a lot of pressure” in France later this year when they attempt to put a poor World Cup record behind them.
The world’s number one team and newly-crowned Guinness Six Nations Grand Slam champions will be among the major contenders for global supremacy.
But Ireland have never gone past the quarter-final stage of all previous World Cup tournaments.
And while former New Zealand boss Hansen, who masterminded the All Blacks’ 2015 world title triumph, accepts that Ireland are “definitely a contender,” he also believes there is a hurdle to be overcome.
“They are going well, ranked number one in the world, and they have had a great year so far,” said Hansen, who will coach a World XV against the Barbarians at Twickenham in May.
“Every time a team is number one in the world, you have got to consider them to be a World Cup contender, but it is a tough tournament to win.
“So they have seemed to struggle a little bit at World Cups. If it was the All Blacks, they would probably be called ‘chokers’.
“But they have come a long way, they believe in themselves, they are a very good side, so they are definitely a contender.
“But they will have to overcome the pressure of not having gone past the quarter-finals before, and there will be a lot of pressure involved in that.
“If they get through to the semi-finals, then they are in new territory.
“That is something they will have to deal with that they’ve never dealt with before, and it is always hard to deal with something you haven’t dealt with before.”
At the 🔝 of their game 🏆#SixNations | #IREvENG | @IrishRugby pic.twitter.com/vd9Ok5Pirk
— World Rugby (@WorldRugby) March 18, 2023
During the past 12 months, Ireland won an away Test series against New Zealand, then enjoyed unbeaten Autumn Nations Series and Six Nations campaigns, when their scalps included South Africa, Australia, France and England.
They remain top of the world rankings, above France, New Zealand and South Africa, and are fancied by many to excel on the World Cup stage during September and October.
Their World Cup pool also features the Springboks and Scotland, with two teams progressing to the last eight.