A pair of iconic southern hemisphere rugby personalities have tipped Ireland to make a huge impact in the upcoming World Cup.
Robbie Deans and Brad Thorn believe Joe Schmidt’s team have more than a sporting chance of upsetting the big boys of rugby to win the trophy for the first time.
Former Wallaby coach Deans is to coach the famous Barbarians club against Ireland in Limerick’s Thomond Park on May 28 and has been taking more than a passing interest in the rugby affairs of the northern hemisphere this winter.
“It’s my clear view this is going to be the most competitive World Cup to date and obviously Ireland are well positioned. They’re purring nicely, playing some good rugby, they have a genuine ambition and belief they can be there at the end and certainly the teams in the southern hemisphere have every reason to treat their challenge with the utmost respect,” Deans said.
Deans singled out skipper Paul O’Connell as the key figure within Ireland’s playing group although he pointed out the squad has much to offer.
“He gets better by the year. He is now probably the most influential player in world rugby, but in Ireland’s case it seems to me to go beyond one individual, although Paul has clearly had a huge influence on the players around him.”
Having experienced time playing with Leinster, Thorn is arguably in an as good a position to judge Ireland’s World Cup chances.
He believes Ireland can be there at the business end of the competition and wouldn’t be surprised if they cause an even bigger surprise.
“I wouldn’t have said that (they could win it) a year or two ago, but a lot of good things have happened since. One of the things I’ve seen within the Irish team that is different to the past is belief, there is a confidence. It’s a group that believe in each other and in their coach and they have a lot of things going for them through the likes of Paul and others.
“The challenge for them will be to deal with the expectation that’s following them now. Teams are going to view them as a team to beat so they will need to prove they can deal with that type of pressure.”
The 40-year-old Thorn will bring his career to an end this season, either with the Barbarians or with Leicester Tigers, should they reach the final of the Aviva Premiership. He looks forward to wearing the Barbarians jersey in their 125th season and would be delighted to get a run in Thomond Park.
So far, he has been there twice — with Leinster and the All Blacks against Munster. He ended up on the winning side both times but remembers the experience more than the victories.
“Yeah, it’s a real special place. I particularly remember that 2008 game with the All Blacks, the passionate crowd, red jerseys everywhere and then just the respect they had for the game when it was time to kick at goal and the respect they had at the finish even though they had reasons to be upset and annoyed that we sneaked away with the win.”
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