It’s a bit early to get carried away
IT’S ALWAYS wise not to lose the run of yourself, not to speak too soon, count your chickens before they’re hatched or any another other similar sayings that spring to mind.
After all a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush and all that old malarkey, so until Rory Best is actually lifting the Webb Ellis Cup I wouldn’t even consider Ireland winning the Rugby World Cup to even be the tiniest bit possible.
We tend to scoff at the pesky English when they’re bigging up their chances in a football World Cup or European Championships, yet we’re pretty much always guilty of doing exactly the same with our rugby team, who have sadly underachieved on the biggest stage to date.
We’ve shown time and time again that overconfidence is not a totally English phenomenon, or exclusive to the ‘beautiful game’ for that matter, as followers of rugby in this neck of the woods have a penchant for getting more carried away than an oval ball tucked under Jacob Stockdale’s arm during a lightning-quick line break.
When we walloped France in the pool stage four years ago or overpowered Australia in the previous tournament, supporters immediately got overexcited with the expectation, only to witness Ireland suffer galling defeats against Argentina and Wales in their quarter-final ties when the stakes were raised.
When we beat the All Blacks in a test match last November we were world champions in waiting in many people’s eyes, with a wave of optimism engulfing those who really should know better.
What Ireland did against Scotland on Sunday was good, very good in fact, but the way our chances have been inflated in some quarters due to a thoroughly professional performance against what looked a poor side would have you crying ‘hold your horses there for a minute lads and lassies’.
Ireland were drawn in the easiest pool they could have hoped for, but that could well work against them in the long run as they’ll enter the cauldron of the last eight pretty much untested.
Facing second favourites for the tournament, South Africa, in the knockout stages will certainly prove a daunting task and, at risk of being labelled a negative creep, the suspicion is that Ireland will fall at that annoying hurdle once more.
Of course Ireland are capable of beating the Springboks if they can get all their ducks in a row, but the rigidity and one-dimensional nature of Joe Schmidt’s side could well work against them at crunch time.
Ireland may have been officially listed as the number one team in the world going into the tournament, but while a nice accolade, most can see through the folly of the ranking system.
The world and his wife knows, while we’re not far way, we’re certainly not the best team on the planet at present and if Ireland could just get that monkey of their backs and finally get past the quarter-finals I would see that as a decent achievement, but that’s a big ‘if’ with what lies in wait.
The biggest issue, and this is no fault of Ireland’s, is the tournament itself. The strength in depth is so lacking that after overcoming Scotland, Ireland won’t have another serious test until their quarter-final on Sunday, October 20, pretty much a full month away.
Japan may have caused a seismic shock by toppling the mighty South Africa in the last World Cup, but with all due respect, Ireland should be putting the hosts to the sword, while Samoa and Russia would hardly have Irish fans quaking in their boots.
Given the toll injuries took on the squad four years ago that may not be a bad thing as it affords the opportunity to rest key players, although the fear is that they could well arrive at the quarter-final undercooked. On the plus side, if Ireland somehow manage to come through that they’ll most likely face Australia, Wales, or even France, all sides that wouldn’t hold any overbearing fear for the men in emerald green. All three would be tough, yet beatable all the same.
I’m starting to sound like the over-optimistic sods now, thinking of possible semi-final opponents, when getting there is still a long shot. It may be nice to dream, but I’d rather be a realist and expect another customary quarter-final exit. If Ireland surpass that everything else is bonus territory and forgive me for dipping one more time into my bag of tired phrases to say, let’s cross that bridge when we come to it.
If Ireland could pull off an unlikely World Cup victory I’ll celebrate like a man possessed and gladly listen to the ‘I told you so’ brigade.
I would even go as far as singing Ireland’s Call with great gusto in front of all and sundry in my underpants.
If the thought of that doesn’t dampen enthusiasm I don’t know what would.
Jacob Stockdale of Ireland is tackled by Scotland players, from left, Ali Price, Darcy Graham and Stuart Hogg, during their Rugby World Cup match on Sunday.