Ire­land can be lucky this time, says Wood

The China Post - - SPORTS - BY PI­RATE IR­WIN

Ire­land have never r eached a Rugby World Cup semi­fi­nal but for­mer cap­tain Keith Wood be­lieves they can win the tro­phy if they beat France in their fi­nal pool match.

The Ir­ish have still to play Italy and France the Cana­di­ans. But both should reach their high stakes Cardiff show­down on Oct. 11 un­beaten.

Bar­ring huge up­sets, the loser of the con­test will get a fear­some quar­ter­fi­nal clash against de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons New Zealand who are storm­ing to first place in Pool C. The win­ner would likely get an eas­ier task against Ar­gentina.

How­ever, 2001 World Player of the Year Wood — who bowed out of Test rugby with a 2003 quar­ter­fi­nal loss to France — said the Ir­ish un­der coach Joe Sch­midt have the qual­ity to make a big im­pact on the tour­na­ment.

New Zealan­der Sch­midt has in just two years turned Ire­land from a de­mor­al­ized unit into the win­ners of two suc­ces­sive Six Na­tions ti­tles with no­table wins over south­ern hemi­sphere giants Aus­tralia and South Africa.

“I think this com­pe­ti­tion is all about the game with France,” said Wood, an am­bas­sador for tour­na­ment spon­sor Mastercard.

“The Ir­ish are ex­pected to win their first three games and if they win against France or lose to France there will be just a cou­ple of points in it.

“If they win they play Ar­gentina which is an in­cred­i­bly tough game and if they lose it is the All Blacks, and they are no slouch ei­ther.

“How­ever, we know which of those op­po­nents will be the hard­est.

‘Yes they can!’

“Can they (the Ir­ish) get to the semis? Yes they can. Can Ire­land win the World Cup? Yes they can.” Wood said the Ir­ish look strong but need to stay in­jury free.

“Maybe we need a bit of luck and I’ve seen lots of teams win World Cups who have had a bit of luck so we can take a bit of that our­selves this time.”

Wood, who was af­fec­tion­ately known in his play­ing days as the “Rag­ing Potato” be­cause of his shaven- headed ram­pag­ing runs, said Sch­midt has lifted the pres­sure off play­ers bet­ter than pre­vi­ous Ire­land coaches.

“We’ve had steel in the past (at the World Cup) and some things have worked for us and some haven’t,” said Wood, who high­lighted Ire­land’s cam­paign in 2003, his fi­nale. “Maybe we could have done more and didn’t and is some­thing that I re­gret.”

“I like the fact there is a sense of thor­ough­ness to Joe Sch­midt.”

Wood, who was part of the Bri­tish and Ir­ish Lions side that beat world cham­pi­ons South Africa in 1997, said he liked what he had seen of a “very com­pe­tent” Ire­land in their com­fort­able vic­to­ries over Canada (50-5) and Ro­ma­nia (44-10).

AFP

Ire­land’s full-back Rob Kear­ney, cen­ter, runs to score his team’s fifth try dur­ing a Pool D match of the 2015 Rugby World Cup be­tween Ire­land and Ro­ma­nia at Wem­b­ley sta­dium, north Lon­don on Sun­day, Sept. 27.

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