It’s the question on every Irish rugby fans lips, are Ireland’s World Cup hopes over before the tournament even begins? The Ireland team of a year ago, in late 2018, was one which inspired hope and confidence in the nation that Ireland could well be poised to actually win the very first World Cup in their history.
Ireland have historically never performed to the level many feel that the team are capable of performing at in World Cup tournaments, having never advanced beyond the Quarter-final stage, despite competing in all 8 rugby World Cup tournaments since the first in 1987.
Despite Ireland’s unimpressive history at the Rugby World Cup, many rugby fans felt that things were set to change in 2019. Since the 2015 World Cup, Ireland have played some impressive rugby and recorded some very impressive victories, including the first two test match victories in their history over world number 1’s New Zealand. Things were looking promising for the Irish and the team looked to be set to peak at just the right time, as they recorded one of those historic victories over the All-Black’s in November of last year at the Aviva Stadium, as well as winning the Six Nations and achieving the Grand Slam in 2018.
However, the Ireland of 2019, at present, looks like a shell of the team that was arguably playing some of the best rugby in the world less than just one year ago. Ireland suffered just one defeat, a narrow loss to Australia, a result which was quickly turned around in the return fixture, in 2018, while in 2019, Ireland have already lost twice to England including this past weekend’s record-breaking defeat, as well as having suffered a big defeat to Wales in March. A team which was playing with was revered by the nation and was achieving unprecedented success, now looks like a team devoid of confidence and suffering from a lack of ideas on the pitch.
Confidence has historically always played a huge role in the results and performances of Irish team’s down the years, which is never more clear than in the nature of the highs and lows of form which the team has experienced over the past 12 months. The quality is clear and undeniable in the Irish side, however, the confidence will need to quickly return if the team are to regain form, which will be a crucial factor in the success of every team at this year’s World Cup. Quality means very little without the temporary factor of form which is arguably the most important factor in a tournament like the World Cup, which only lasts for just over a month.
Ireland’s massive loss to England will add to Irish fans’ growing nerves ahead of the beginning of their World Cup campaign on the 22nd of September against a Scottish side who will be no pushovers in their own right, currently ranked just 3 places below Ireland in the world rugby rankings, and Ireland will need to be at their best to kick off their World Cup campaign successfully.
Joe Schmidt and his team will have 2 more warm-up matches before then to get the squad firing on all cylinders as they will play their final two warm-up fixtures against none other than the current world number 1’s Wales over the next two weeks. The Irish squad could ask for no better opportunity to regain the confidence levels they had in 2018 than to put in good performances and take good results from their final two warm-up games against the world’s best side at present, and these final two warm-up games could be just what the Irish team need at the last minute to regain their place as serious contenders once again, heading into the World Cup.
The next two games will be vital for the Irish team and Irish fans’ confidence and hope, as well as for the coach as he will have a lot of tough decisions to make with regard to his team selection ahead of September 22nd, with many pundits and fans weighing in on team selection, in particular, following the Irish squad’s dismal display at Twickenham last Saturday.
Though things look bleak at present, Irish fans can retain hope until things kick off in Japan next month, and form can turn on a dime with this Irish side if they manage to string together a couple of good performances against Wales over the next two weeks. Irish fans, coaches and opposition will be watching the next two warm-up games very closely to determine what Ireland to expect in Japan.