Brian O’Driscoll believes Ireland have the perfect platform to take the World Cup by storm after clinching the RBS Six Nations title.
The former Ireland skipper was at the centre of the narrative 12 months ago as Joe Schmidt’s team carried off the trophy with victory over France in Paris.
It was his final international match and meant that, this year, as Ireland were clinching a successful defence, O’Driscoll was with friends and family watching on television as Ireland thrashed Scotland 40-10 at Murrayfield.
Defeat to Wales in their previous outing meant the Grand Slam was not on, and Ireland had a nervous wait to discover whether England could overturn a 26-point differential in their late Twickenham clash with France.
England fell narrowly short so Ireland were able to celebrate long into the night, and now thoughts turn to the World Cup campaign later in the year.
“I think it sets us up really well,” O’Driscoll said. “You always look at positives in any loss – the defeat to Wales might be a blessing in disguise.
“In Ireland, we don’t do middle ground: we’re either top of the pile or bottom of the heap.
“If we had won the Grand Slam, going into the World Cup, there would have been an absolutely insane amount of pressure on the boys.
“That being said, we’ve won the Six Nations and there’s still going to be that pressure and that level of expectation.
“But it’s been a little bit tempered by the fact we did lose last week, so hopefully it gives us an opportunity to slip in a fraction more under the radar.
“We’re playing with a huge amount of confidence, we’ve got a very distinct understanding of what our strategy is and what our game plan is and everyone’s singing off the same hymn sheet.
“If we can be fortunate with not losing too many players to injury, I don’t see why we can’t find ourselves in a semi-final – all bets are off when you get to that point.”
O’Driscoll, speaking on BBC Radio Five Live’s Sportsweek programme, reflected on a “crazy, crazy” afternoon of rugby, while former England skipper Will Carling labelled it “the most amazing day of Six Nations or Five Nations rugby I’ve ever seen”.
Carling is also optimistic that England, the hosts, can have a strong World Cup, following their 55-35 win over France.
“Sport can be cruel and it can have the most incredible highs and lows. Sometimes it’s cruel but it’s always in your hands,” Carling said. “The England players made an incredible effort. You feel very sorry for them. They gave it an incredible shot but just fell short. It’s something they have to learn from, that’s the key from an English point of view.
“I think what England will learn is if they go out in every game with the intensity they showed in the second half against Wales (in the opening Six Nations match) they can beat everyone. You’ve got to be able to do that week in and week out at a World Cup.”
Paul O’Connell insists Ireland’s back-to-back titles rest entirely on never once questioning taskmaster boss Joe Schmidt’s intense methods.
Ireland skipper O’Connell hailed head coach Schmidt’s meticulous mindset in the wake of 40-10 victory over Scotland. Munster talisman O’Connell believes Ireland’s twin glories are wholly constructed on full confidence in Schmidt, even in the wake of galling defeats.
“He’s right up there with the best I’ve worked with. He is a fantastic coach,” said O’Connell. “I think the trust the players have in what he does and what his coaching staff do is a massive part of why we’re successful.
“Certainly [there were] times, like Australia in the first game, the England game last year, Wales last week, where other teams might question themselves but we never did.
“I don’t think we’ve ever once done that. There’s a lot of trust and a lot of confidence in the coaches.”
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