After achieving something only three Ireland teams have managed in history by winning the Grand Slam, Brian O’Driscoll believes Joe Schmidt’s side will now be looking to accomplish the unprecedented at the Rugby World Cup next year.
Ireland have never gone further than the quarter-finals at the tournament since the competition’s creation back in 1987.
However, O’Driscoll believes the current crop of players will at least be looking at going one step further than that in Japan next year.
Ireland were worthy Grand Slam winners during this year’s Six Nations and they boast a squad full of young and upcoming talent.
And it is that, coupled with the team’s development over the past few years, which makes O’Driscoll sure Schmidt’s men will at least be eyeing making the semi-finals in Japan.
“I have seen how they have grown over the last 18 months, two years, getting over the disappointment of a quarter-final exit out of the World Cup [in 2015],” said the former centre.
“I think what they have managed to do — beating every Tier 1 nation, winning away from home in South Africa, France and in England, winning the Grand Slam — you don’t want to get away and simply put it down to ticking boxes en route to a World Cup.
“We don’t have many Grand Slams, I don’t want to move over that very quickly.
“But I think the aspirations of this current team is to do something that no other Ireland team has done and that is at least get to a World Cup semi-final.
“They are shaping up well at the moment, but I think you always have to remain conscious that a lot can change in the world of rugby in 18 months.“
They just have to continue growing as a side and develop a strength in depth, because that is what will ultimately stand for them come Japan 2019.”
There is still plenty of preparation time before the World Cup and next on Ireland’s horizon is a tour to Australia this summer, where they have not played a Test since 2010.
There is also the prospect of narrowing the gap to the number one side in the world, New Zealand, as well potentially fending off a resurgent and wounded England, who lie in third.
But, after a brilliant Six Nations this year, O’Driscoll believes Ireland should have no fears about what lies ahead.
“I don’t think you focus overly about maintaining where you are at,” he said.
“I think you do look at the opportunity that you have and that is the series in Australia. They will want to go down there and win a series.
“I don’t think we are afraid anymore of saying these things. There will definitely be hopes and aspirations to go down and win a series.”
The dilemma for Schmidt will be deciding what squad he takes to Australia given that many of his players were involved in last summer’s British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand.
When you add to that the fact that many of them have also gone deep in this season’s Champions Cup and played a key role during the Six Nations, there is an argument that some of them will need to be rested for the tour to Australia.
However, O’Driscoll has no concerns about giving key players a summer off as in his eyes it will only provide Schmidt with more depth come the World Cup in Japan.
“It will be interesting to see what squad is picked, whether a few players are given an opportunity and some rested,” O’Driscoll added.
“Some guys have a lot of miles on the clock. I think you will see a bit of a mixture.
“To go down and win at least one Test, with the hope of a second, I think that’ll add to the confidence that has already been built.
“The need is to try and carry that and ride that wave for as long as we can.”
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