By Owen Kennedy
It’s fair to say that the road to this year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan has been tumultuous for the Irish. Our 2018 season was fantastic, with us winning the Six Nations grand slam and finally beating the All-Blacks at home on November 19th. Everything seemed to be going our way. And then it seems like everything has just come tumbling down at a record pace. Our 2019 Six Nations campaign was nothing short of disastrous, with us ending up third after embarrassing losses to both England and Wales, not to mention a very poor performance against Italy, which we were lucky to have won. The nerves of Irish fans haven’t settled following these past three World Cup warm-up friendlies, where we faced a record loss against England. However, Ireland seemed to have woken up from whatever slumber they were under and put the pedal to the metal when we faced Wales, where they put on a champion’s performance. However, many Irish fans are rightfully nervous about our upcoming performance in Japan, so what can we expect from the boys in green?
Starting off, we’ve been fortunate with the pool we’ve been given, facing off against Scotland, hosts Japan, Russia and Samoa. This is a relatively easy group, with Scotland posing the biggest threat to us in this pool. Our opening game with Scotland, September 22nd, will be our most testing game in the pool, but I have faith we’ll pull through in this game. Coming out of the pools, we’re facing either New Zealand or South Africa in the quarter finals, which is really undesirable for us. Both teams are two of the three favourites to go on and win the Webb Ellis Cup, the other being England. It’s honestly a lot more desirable for us and the rest of the tournament to play against New Zealand over the Springboks. New Zealand’s team can’t absorb as many losses to their squad as South Africa can, giving us a chance to have a whittled down All-Blacks squad or to take out a few of their team ourselves. New Zealand also don’t have a solidified starting 15, unlike every other team going into this competition. It’s unlikely for us to win our quarter final game, god forbid we ever make it past one, but maybe we’ll have a bit of divine intervention for once.
The big question is who’s going to win it, however. I have no doubt in my mind that South Africa will be the champions this year. After winning the Rugby Championship earlier this year, South Africa have proved themselves to be lethal on the pitch. They’re a lot more aware and switched on than any other team going into this tournament. They are a very physical squad, capable of running the ball efficiently, hard and fast. It’s probably going to be New Zealand they face off in the final but considering New Zealand, as mentioned previously, don’t have a solidified starting 15 or the ability to take big hits to their squad, South Africa are the big favourites to win it.