Rugby Union

Are Ireland serious World Cup contenders?

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Ireland fans found themselves nervously on the edge of their seats on an autumnal Sunday evening whilst playing against Italy, and just about managed to hold on even with a man in the sin-bin for a valuable win which guarantees them a place in the quarter-finals of the 2015 Rugby World Cup for the fifth time. 

Despite Ireland having plenty of experience against the Italian side, the Irish performance was uncharacteristically sloppy and underwhelming from the typically pinpoint and convincing performances which the men in Green had shown of late. So despite this dip in form, can Ireland go all the way to the final? 

Perhaps. Sunday was Ireland's first real test in the World Cup, and this came as a shock to the side which found the first two opening games rather easy. Despite the tremendous home support at the Olympic Stadium, Ireland looked nervous and shied away from risk, opting all too often to kick rather than to play the ball through the hands which may have opened up the Italian defence.

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Paul O'Connell noted in his post-match interview that Ireland treated the game like a "knockout" which may account for some of the Irish nerves on the pitch. Ireland looked all too vulnerable defensively and toothless offensively for much of the second half, exasperated by the sin-binning of Peter O'Mahony with less than ten minutes on the clock.   

Yet despite a wobbly performance on Sunday, Ireland in recent games have shown great potential, particularly since claiming the Six Nations crown for the second year in a row.

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Keith Earls, running in his third try of the tournament, has been in inspired form on the wing which gives the Irish team options going forward. Ian Henderson has also hit his stride at the perfect time for the World Cup, putting in a Man of the Match performance too.

Despite the poor passing and decision-making that plagued the Irish against Italy, the lineout was in perfect form, Ireland taking all ten of their own lineouts and stealing three belonging to Italy. And where would Ireland be without the commitment of Peter O'Mahony to deny Josh Furno with an outstanding try-saving tackle which defined the game?

All in all, it is clear to the Ireland team, and the fans that Ireland will have to be on top of their game to beat a confident looking France, hoping to emulate the last World Cup's achievement of getting to the final. But, what will the next game really decide if both teams are already through?

Possible scenarios

Should Ireland win against France, they will top Pool D which would pit them against the Runner-Up of Pool C; which unless Tonga can create a giant upset of their own, is likely to be Argentina.

The Argentines found New Zealand to be formidable opponents, as they faltered 26-16 in a tough fixture which also saw Lock Mariano Galarza suspended for nine weeks for foul play. A tough game for the Irish, but one that on paper they should be able to edge through. 

Assuming Ireland beat Argentina, they will get further than they ever have done before in the Rugby World Cup, and will play the result of the game between the winner from Pool A (either Australia or Wales) and the Runner-Up from Pool B (which is likely to either be Scotland or Japan).

With both Australia and Wales escaping the 'Pool of Death', they have shown fine form and consistency which would indicate a likely victory over the Japanese or the Scots (but as Japan have already proven, upsets do happen) and so Ireland will really have a game on their hands should they reach the semi-finals, no matter who they play. 

Yet, if we wind back and Ireland loses to France, the men in Green will have the mountainous task of playing against New Zealand, the current title holders, and favourites to retain their title. With a performance like Sunday, expect New Zealand to glide through.

So Ireland fans will be hoping for a decisive and confident recovery of form against the French on October 11. If they don't, then they'll be facing the number one ranked team in the world off the back of two poor performances which will not leave team moral in the best condition.

No matter what way the game against France goes, Ireland will be tested in the coming weeks. They have the potential to go all the way, as Ireland rugby legend Brian O'Driscoll has predicted, but performances and confidence have to improve.

Do you think Ireland can go all the way to the World Cup Final? Let us know what you think below.

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Topics:
Rugby Union
Ireland Rugby
IRB Rugby World Cup

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