With just 16 months until Joe Schmidt’s team kick off their 2019 World Cup pool campaign against Six Nations rivals Scotland in the Japanese city of Yokohama, former England boss Lancaster said he had high hopes that the Grand Slam winners, the majority of whom also lifted the Champions Cup and Guinness PRO14 trophies with Leinster in the past 16 days, can have serious tilt at adding the Webb Ellis Cup to their impressive medal haul.
Following Leinster’s 40-32 PRO14 final win at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday, Lancaster said of Schmidt team’s hopes in Japan: “Ireland have got a really good chance, an exceptional chance.
“The thing about a World Cup is that it is about one-off games but the tour for a lot of these boys to Australia is a big marker for them. They have a quality coaching team.”
Ireland depart for Australia this Friday and a training camp on Queensland’s Gold Coast, with the first Test against Michael Cheika’s Wallabies in Brisbane on Saturday, June 9.
Schmidt has named a strong squad for the three-Test series, resisting the temptation to rest some of his big guns, including Saturday’s man of the match and playmaker Johnny Sexton.
Lancaster described Sexton as the best of all the players he has coached and as regards next year’s World Cup he added: “But it’s not just about the out-half, is it? It’s about the team and what Ireland have got is a very good coaching team and a very good collective team.
“That’s why they have a real chance in the World Cup.”
Leinster’s senior coach has helped Leo Cullen restore the province to the European heights it enjoyed under both Cheika and Schmidt at the turn of the decade, has seen the class of 2017-18 surpass those achievements by doing the double this season, the first time the feat has been managed by a PRO14 side.
What has pleased Lancaster most was the variety of play they found to win those big knockout fixtures having failed in that department last season.
“Our adaptability. We lost two semi-finals last year because tried to play the same way and we came up short in both of them.
“Now we have found different ways to play against different teams and it makes us harder to defend.”
Worryingly for their rivals, he also backed Leinster to get better again.
“Well, just look at the players that didn’t play. Robbie Henshaw, Josh van der Flier, Sean O’Brien, Fergus McFadden, Dave Kearney all didn’t play and there is more.
“Who is finishing? Isa (Nacewa). With new players coming through and the hunger and ambition to get better … everything starts from zero next season but there is an exceptional group of players here.”