The bright side of sport: Ireland can be number one at Rugby World Cup

Ireland’s win against Wales last weekend proved something very important. The golden generation was not a once off, writes Steve Neville.

The bright side of sport: Ireland can be number one at Rugby World Cup

The younger, less established players put their hands up last weekend. Henshaw seems to have already established himself after the Six Nations, but the likes of Jack McGrath, Iain Henderson and Paddy Jackson all put in strong performances.

Henshaw, McGrath, Jackson, Jordi Murphy and Henderson are all under 25. All will play crucial parts in the next few years of Irish rugby. And that’s not to mention those who are slightly older, yet chomping at the bit to break back into the team.

Against Wales, Keith Earls put his hand up to be included in the squad with some electrifying footwork. Let’s not forget Earls is still only 27 - the Limerick man still has plenty of rugby left in him.

The Wales team Ireland played last week were a very poor side, with an awful lot of players who normally wouldn’t come close to the first team. But you can only play what’s in front of you and Ireland played some excellent rugby.

So the signs are good going into the World Cup.

The win over Wales has put us in the lofty position of 2nd in the world rankings. Ireland will have to be wary of teams looking to knock the second best team in the world off their perch. And that is a challenge that should be relished.

Simply put, Ireland should be heading to England in September looking to win the World Cup.

The Wales game proved that Ireland has a wealth of depth in their squad that is enviable. 14 changes for the game against Scotland this weekend highlights it further.

Tommy O’Donnell’s hip injury is a blow but with Chris Henry, Jordi Murphy and 23-year-old Jack Conan there is ample back up to Jamie Heaslip, Sean O’Brien and Peter O’Mahony in the back row.

Led by Paul O’Connell, the man who is defining age with his ability, he looks set to line out in the second row alongside Devin Toner. But Henderson (who can also play at number 6) will be looking for a starting jersey along with Donnacha Ryan, who has a point to prove after losing his starting place through a series of injuries.

In the front row, the once guaranteed starter Cian Healy is having his place continually put under threat from Jack McGrath. Sean Cronin and Richardt Strauss will be fighting to be back-up to Rory Best. We also finally have a backup tight head prop in Martin Moore for the scrum’s corner stone, Mike Ross.

In the back three Tommy Bowe and Rob Kearney look nailed on to start, but the depth for the other wing is incredible. Zebo, Earls, Trimble, Luke Fitzgerald, Fergus McFadden, Felix Jones and Dave Kearney all offer massive competition.

In the centre Henshaw and Payne will provide a rock solid midfield which will set a base for Ireland’s attack, while Darren Cave and Gordon D’Arcy will push them hard.

Ireland can boast perhaps the best half back pairing in the world, certainly top two in Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton.  While at scrum half Eoin Reddan will be keeping the pressure on Murray, out-half is probably our weakest position in terms of depth, something Madigan and Jackson will be determined to prove wrong.

And to cap it off, Ireland has the best coach in the world. Joe Schmidt has masterminded European titles with Leinster and Six Nations success with Ireland, so really only one step remains – to win the Webb Ellis Cup.

With lessons learned from World Cups gone by now is the time to prove the doubters wrong. Australia proved last weekend New Zealand are beatable. The Wallabies themselves are still far from the finished product. Wales, England and France are all beatable as are South Africa.

It certainly won’t be easy, but it certainly is achievable.

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