It’s a bit early to get car­ried away

Wicklow People (West Edition) - - SPORT -

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.

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