Ireland under pressure to perform
September 2, 2011
Can Ireland coach Declan Kidney conjure a turnaround in fortunes for his side? © Getty Images
It was only a couple of weeks ago that we were writing how Ireland coach Declan Kidney would be happy with how his Rugby World Cup preparations were going. Scratch that.
Since that decent Irish performance in Bordeaux in the second of their four warm-up internationals, Kidney's World Cup preparations have taken on a distinct pear shape and when the squad touched down in New Zealand this week, the sense of relief at leaving behind a torrid August and a barrage of criticism back home was palpable.
The home defeats to France and England carried very few positives and a host of negatives. Chief among those were the injuries to Felix Jones and David Wallace and, while Geordan Murphy is a quality replacement for Jones at fullback, Wallace's knee injury leaves Ireland with a problem at openside flanker.
Shane Jennings was the obvious replacement, and is a specialist 7, but has yet to prove he can bring his excellent Leinster form onto the international stage. Sean O'Brien can slot in there but that would take him away from his most effective position of blindside - O'Brien's game is all about big hits and big runs, asking him to scavenge at the base of rucks reduces that impact.
However, warm-up troubles aside, Ireland are happily encamped in Queenstown and, though there are still injury issues surrounding late arrivals Cian Healy and Gordon D'Arcy and match-readiness doubts over several players, including captain Brian O'Driscoll, Kidney and company are heading into the tournament with a positive attitude.
The comparisons with the lead-in to the disastrous 2007 campaign have been flying around the Irish media with accompanying prognostications of impending doom. However, as Kidney pointed out this week, a crucial difference is that, while the warm-up matches last time were against Scotland, Italy and Bayonne, there was a deliberate decision this time around to go up against World Cup heavyweights France and England and the Ireland coach is convinced this will stand to the players. So, what can we expect from Ireland at this World Cup? Let's break it down.
Indeed, close perusal of their record reveals only two meaningful victories in 24 years - dogfights in the pool stages against Wales in 1995 and Argentina in 2003.
Hugh Farrelly's Ireland XV: Rob Kearney; Tommy Bowe, Brian O'Driscoll (capt), Fergus McFadden, Andrew Trimble; Ronan O'Gara, Eoin Reddan; Cian Healy, Jerry Flannery, Mike Ross; Donncha O'Callaghan, Paul O'Connell; Stephen Ferris, Sean O'Brien, Jamie
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Hugh Farrelly is the rugby correspondent for the Irish Independent
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