After winning successive Six Nations for the first time since the tournament was rebranded 16 years ago, and two northern hemisphere titles on the spin for only the second time in their history, Ireland can now plot what looks a straightforward route to the Rugby World Cup semi-finals.
Joe Schmidt’s side were third in the world rankings, behind southern hemisphere behemoths New Zealand and South Africa, prior to the crazy final Saturday of action, which featured 221 points and 27 tries across the three games.
Ireland are clearly somewhat ahead of their development, having started the Six Nations campaign with a brand new centre pairing of Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne, and with superstar fly-half Johnny Sexton clearly carrying injuries throughout the tournament.
There’s clearly not as much depth in Ireland’s squad as England’s; Stuart Lancaster’s side came within a converted try of taking their first title under the Cumbrian despite the likes of Joe Launchbury, Alex Corbisiero, Manu Tuilagi and Ben Morgan, each of whom are world class rugby players, not featuring at all during the campaign.
On all known form, Schmidt’s side will batter Italy and beat France, their two main competitors in Pool D.
Conversely, there are no guarantees England will see off both Wales and Australia in a tough Pool A, which could mean a quarter-final clash with South Africa, a team that has knocked them out of two of the past four World Cups.
Meanwhile, Ireland should sail serenely into the last four with a win over probable Pool C runners-up Argentina, avoiding holders the All-Blacks until the final.
Considering Ireland have never beaten New Zealand in their history, 8/1 about Schmidt’s side lifting the Webb Ellis trophy is one for the romantics.
They came very close last time though, going down 24-22 with the last kick of the game at the Aviva Stadium 16 months ago, and the All Blacks are famous under achievers on the biggest stage of all, so you never know.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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