I want Ireland to win the Rugby World Cup, but they’ll run out of steam
I really do hope that Ireland win the World Cup this year, but so many bones in my body are telling me they’ll blow it in France later this year.
They haven’t lost since last summer – in the first Test of their 2-1 series win against New Zealand down in the land of the long white cloud – and they have just snapped up their third Six Nations Grand Slam.
Seemingly then, they’re on a high. But I just don’t see the run continuing all the way through the World Cup.
Ireland on the charge
Ironically, if Ireland make it to the final in Paris later this year, I think it would prove to be the easiest game of their campaign.
They have a tough pool – alongside South Africa, Scotland, Tonga and Romania – and then the permutations beyond that are difficult, too.
It also doesn’t help Andy Farrell’s men that they face Scotland in their final pool match before a quarter-final against, potentially, New Zealand or France.
There is a realistic scenario whereby Scotland still have a shot at making it to the last eight – I believe they could beat South Africa in the pool – meaning those north of the border would need to throw everything at Ireland to have a chance at qualification.
Furthermore, Romania and Tonga – though unlikely to beat Ireland – will be physical outfits and could injure a number of Andy Farrell’s side.
And for me, so much of the Irish success in the last two months has been channelled through two players: Johnny Sexton and Peter O’Mahony.
Sexton is the messiah of the Irish machine, he’s so smart in the way he runs his side and creates opportunities for others. But his game style is his weakness.
Monster to target
England showed how you can target the fly-half and get him hobbling in no time at all, and the likes of Tonga and Romania will prioritise that game plan as they go for a giant killing.
O’Mahony has been in and out of the side over the last couple of years but, of late, he’s been undroppable.
At 33, this is likely to be the back-row’s last World Cup but he is a monster and someone I’d be targeting if I were the opposition.
I do not believe Sexton will make the final of the World Cup given the potential run of fixtures Ireland could have in the latter stages, but if his side get that far it could be the simplest game of their entire campaign – potentially against England, Wales, Argentina or Australia.
For me, the writing is on the wall for France to win the World Cup on home soil. They’re looking solid and their loss to Ireland in the Six Nations – one of the greatest matches the Championship has ever seen – could be a blessing in disguise.
Having said that, opening up the tournament against New Zealand on a Friday night in Paris has all of the ingredients to derail the hosts’ charge for the title.
I just want another northern hemisphere side to lift the William Webb Ellis trophy. And, in reality, it’s not because I am bitter about the dominance the south has provided – England are the only team above the equator to win the title – but because I believe we have the two favourites. The north deserves another title.
China Sevens head coach Ollie Phillips is the founder of Optimist Performance, experts in leadership development and behavioural change. Follow Ollie on Twitter and on LinkedIn.