We are now just a few weeks away from the Rugby World Cup with hosts France opening the tournament against the All Blacks on September 8.
Rugby world cup odds currently have the two teams as the favorites for the tournament with New Zealand’s All Blacks narrowly leading the way ahead of Le XV de France.
Among the rest of the more favored teams are Ireland who bookmakers have just below New Zealand and France. The team, led by head coach Andy Farrell, had a disappointing campaign in the 2019 Rugby World Cup. They exited the tournament in the quarterfinals in a heavy 46-14 defeat at the hands of New Zealand. This came after their second place finish in Pool A where they suffered one of the biggest shock defeats in the history of the sport when they lost 19-12 to hosts Japan.
A new path
Head coach Joe Schmidt stepped down after the tournament as he had previously announced at the end of 2018. In his place came current coach Andy Ferrell, who had previously been the Ireland defence coach. A lot of their hopes will be pinned on him in the forthcoming World Cup and he has settled into life well since taking the reigns at the Aviva Stadium.
He currently has a record of 18-4 as head coach with some big wins over the likes of England, Wales and New Zealand. His rejigging of the squad came to a head in 2023 when he led Ireland to a Grand Slam-Six Nations win. It was just the fourth time in the teams history, that they had completed the Grand Slam and that performance catapulted them to the forefront of the favorites for the World Cup.
Farrell’s form as coach has breathed a new lease of life into the Irish team ad they are in good form and good spirits heading to France. Elsewhere, there are a number of key players that should impress.
One player whose chances of appearing at the World Cup are up in the air is captain Johnny Sexton. The legendary fly-half has already announced that he will retire following the tournament but after re-aggravating a groin injury in the final Six Nations game his status is up in the air. In his place, lock James Ryan has been captaining the nation and is set to make his eighth appearance as skipper in their coming fixture against England at the time of writing.
They also have a quality front row in Andrew Porter, Dan Sheehan and Tadhg Furlong with the latter proving to be one of Ireland’s best players in this current crop. However, something that many point to as a potential downfall in Ireland’s game is their psychological approach.
It is worth noting that Ireland have never won the rugby World Cup despite consistently being one of the best teams in the world. In fact, they are currently ranked as the number one Rugby Union nation in the world, their standing made even stronger by their dominant six nations performance.
Could it be that there is simply something deeply embedded into these players that prevents them from winning the big one? There is no doubt they have had plenty of teams throughout the years who were more than capable of winning but for whatever reason it has never been done.
There is an argument that they perhaps focus on short term results too often. This has of course been a successful approach for them at times, however it looks as if it may hinder them when it comes to lifting the Webb Ellis Trophy. They may need to usher in new blood more often rather than sticking to the old guard, however under Farrell we have seen that happen a lot more often.
One thing that is certain is that both Irish fans and players will be expecting a lot more from the team that underperformed in 2019. With their fortunes seemingly taking a turn since then, it seems increasingly likely that we will see that happen.
The Irish may not be the tournament favourites, but it would be incredibly foolish to write them off. It has been 20 years since a team that wasn’t South Africa or New Zealand won the World Cup, but Ireland is certain to do everything they can to put an end to that run. They are the number one ranked team in the world for a reason and they may just have as good a chance as they ever have at finally getting their hands on the Webb Ellis Trophy in 2023.