The tenth Rugby World Cup is less than 50 days away as France prepares to host the sport’s premier international competition for the second time.
The hosts will have high hopes of claiming their inaugural World Cup victory on home soil but their Six Nations counterparts from the Emerald Isle have similarly lofty ambitions. Andy Farrell’s squad will enter the tournament as Grand Slam champions for the first time but perhaps more significantly, as world number one.
The Irish camp is in great shape, however, there is an ominous air of caution surrounding their chances. It is one of rugby’s most famous hoodoos; despite countless titles, grand slams, famous victories and world class talent, World Cup success has eluded the men in green since the tournament’s inception in 1987 as no Irish side has managed to reach the World Cup semi-final stage. Much like the All-Blacks pre-2011, Ireland have earned the unwanted reputation title of ‘choke artists’ when it comes to rugby’s grandest stage.
Even with the golden generation currently plying their craft at the Aviva Stadium, many will be left wondering whether this will finally be the year Ireland break the rut, or whether Irish pain is destined to go on. Here’s our look at whether the Irish can finally put an end to their World Cup sorrow.
Irish Rugby has never been stronger
Previous World Cup performances might serve as a bad omen for some, but to be clear, if it weren’t for such a disastrous record in previous editions, few would have any argument that Ireland are in pole position to win it all.
A legendary summer tour of New Zealand was backed up with another impressive autumn series in 2022, but it was in the early months of 2023 where the culmination of Farrell’s hard work at the helm has really been shown to pay off. The 2023 Guinness Six Nations ticked all the boxes for the Englishman’s squad, as his side looked near invincible when playing their best.
It came as no surprise that ten Irishmen made the team of the tournament when in all honesty they could have filled all 15 slots and nobody would’ve blinked an eye. The experienced heads of Peter O’Mahony and Josh Van Der Flier combined with the youthful exuberance of Caelan Doris in the backrow to snuff out any danger in defence and exploit any opportunity in attack.
Meanwhile the talismanic Johnny Sexton came to the fore once again and backed by the world class talents of James Lowe, Mack Hansen and Hugo Keenan in the back three, Ireland’s backline ran roughshod on opposition defences. It was as complete a championship performance as you could possibly hope for and at no stage did anyone look to have the better of an Ireland side that has become so accustomed to imposing their will on others.
Similar to the aura of the New Zealand side that sealed back-to-back World Cup wins in 2011 and 2015, they’re a genuinely frightening prospect for opponents to contend with. They pose the greatest threat to any other team’s chances of lifting the Webb Ellis Trophy aloft in October and that is the ideal scenario heading into this era-defining World Cup campaign.
They will justifiably enter the tournament as one of the favourites and those wanting to bet on Ireland at the World Cup can do so by comparing top betting offers.
Route to the final littered with roadblocks
Nowhere is Ireland’s strength more evident than the team’s focus on their ultimate goal. Even as players, coaches and staff were popping champagne corks to salute another famous Grand Slam in Dublin, there was still a lingering sense of restraint in the celebration with eyes looking towards the possibility of something brighter looming over the horizon. This is perhaps born from their acknowledgement of the difficult path that lies ahead. Winning the World Cup is never easy, only four countries have managed the feat after all, but this tournament may stand out more so than most. For one thing the Sexton saga following the mercurial fly-half’s altercation with referee Jaco Peyper after Leinster’s Champions Cup Final defeat to La Rochelle has been an unnecessary stress for a side that was looking settled heading into the final stages of its preparation. Thankfully for Farrell they won’t need to worry about finding a replacement for the number 10 just yet after his citing hearing decision means the 38-year-old won’t miss the World Cup and finish his legendary career sitting in the crowd as a glorified fan. While many will still have mild concerns over the injury-prone Sexton and critics will be lining up to lay their ‘Ireland’s over-reliance on Sexton’ grievances bare, the draw itself will be the primary concern for most Irish fans. Courtesy of World Rugby’s bizarre Rugby World Cup schedule, the tournament draw was conducted only a year after the last World Cup in Japan. The impact being that seedings were decided on the world rankings as they were at the start of 2020 that have drastically fluctuated since. As a result the competition has been left significantly lopsided, with one side of the tournament now stacked with teams from the top eight ranked nations. The fallout means that Ireland’s group features South Africa and Scotland, both of whom are in the top five teams in the world along with themselves. Furthermore, should Ireland qualify from the group stage, the chances of yet another last eight exit are significantly higher than usual as either World Cup masters New Zealand or the imposing hosts France await them. Simply put, if Ireland ended up lifting the World Cup on October 28th, they would have done it the hard way.
Will Ireland break the curse?
Ireland’s players don’t have any previous positive World Cup experience to draw on, no member of the squad has been to a World Cup semi-final before and no Irishman among them knows what a successful Irish World Cup campaign feels like. If there was ever a time where all that felt completely irrelevant, it is now. This side is a once-in-a-lifetime outfit, capable of some special feats on a rugby pitch. While It will be a titanic tussle whoever they face in the quarters, Ireland will be favourites to propel themselves all the way to the final for the first time. There is no more ground to make up, their preparation has been immaculate and not even the jitters of a hoodoo could stop this side in its tracks. Only Fabien Galthie’s Les Bleus stand a real chance of halting the green machine with home-field advantage on their side but with the mental hurdle of three previous silver-medals and the pressure of an expectant home crowd, the luck of the Irish looks like it might finally come good.