Matt Dawson has warned Irish Rugby that 2019 will be a ‘tough year’ as they currently sit as bookies favourite to win the Rugby World Cup in Japan.
Ireland defeated New Zealand for the first time ever on home soil last weekend, beating the current World Champions 16-9 at the Aviva Stadium, with an impressive performance which has drawn praise from rugby fans and pundits alike.
This has led World Cup winning scrum Dawson to suggest that being labelled as the best team in the world adds pressure to a team, and a pressure that this group of Ireland players have never felt before.
The victory over the All Blacks last weekend was seen by many as Ireland setting the benchmark for international rugby, and it also topped off a fantastic year for Irish rugby after their first Six Nations Grand Slam win since 2009.
Speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live, the Englishman claimed that Ireland would have never felt the weight of this level of expectation on their shoulders before and warned that the pressure it can put on the shoulders of the team will be unlike anything they have experienced before.
“I think it’s going to be a really tough year for Ireland.
"There’s no question they deserve to be the best team in the world, and I do believe that they will probably go down to the World Cup still the number one team in the world,” Dawson began to explain.
“But it’s going to be a really tough year, because it’s a really different mindset as a team and as an individual that they’re going to have to have.
"Not just talking about on the field, it’s the journalists, it’s the fans on the street, it’s the pats on the back,” continued Dawson, who knows exactly what the weight of expectation feels like after being a key member of England’s 2003 Rugby World Cup win.
“It is going to be so easy to lose just that little 1% focus that you have had naturally beaten into you to get to the position of number one team in the world. It’s going to test them in a very different way.”
Dawson knows all about the weight of expectation and how that can affect a team after England's World Cup heroics in 2003.
England entered the World Cup in 2003 as the world’s number one ranked team, and had themselves won the Six Nations Grand Slam earlier in the year.
Despite the heavy pressure on England’s shoulders, they prevailed in the World Cup final beating Australia 17-20 after extra time.
Despite his warnings around expectation and pressure, Dawson has also heaped praise on the current crop of Irish players, describing the rugby they are playing at this moment as ‘better than anybody else in the world’.
“These guys play the game better than anybody in the world at the moment, and that in my opinion is an absolute fact,” said Dawson.
“Of course I want England to win, but if you are going to give me ten quid, I’m going to put it on Ireland because I think they are very, very good value for this competition.”
Ireland could become the top ranked side in international rugby should they have a successful Autumn, which will add only more expectation and pressure onto the players.