Dubai: Irish great Brian O’Driscoll believes the Rugby World Cup later this year is shaping up to be a cracker as the Celtic nation can knock New Zealand off their perch as the dominant force in the sport.
Speaking during a visit at the Dubai Sevens late last year, O’Driscoll, regarded as one of the best outside-centres in the game, is confident Ireland can topple the All Blacks and come home with the Webb Ellis Cup when things are done and dusted in Japan after the tournament ends in November 2019.
We (Ireland) have a tough route from the quarter-finals. We will have to beat South Africa or New Zealand, but thereafter anything can happen.
The All Blacks have long been considered the team to stop at the showpiece event, but having defeated them twice recently, including the 16-9 war of attrition in Dublin in October, many are now thinking the green ribbons of Ireland will be on the trophy.
O’Driscoll, who bowed out of the game with 133 caps for the Irish (83 as captain), considers skippering his team above leading the British & Irish Lions as his greatest honour, but thinks his fellow Irishmen lifting the World Cup would trump anything ever achieved as a player.
“Captaining the British & Irish Lions is a big one because it only happens every four years but skippering Ireland to a Grand Slam in 2009 is unbeatable. I can’t beat that but these guys that are playing now have a chance of topping that in Japan.
“I have played in the Six Nations for many years and we have had many up and downs. In my early years beating France in Paris was a pinnacle, but now the guys have a chance to go on to greater things and become true legends in the game.
“England did it, South Africa did it and I think Ireland can now do the same.” O’Driscoll is under no illusions of the task that awaits the boys in green, given the fact that Southern Hemisphere giants Australia and South Africa are in the mix, not to mention the guys from England and Wales. They will all fancy their chances.
However, it is the men in black that everyone will want — and need — to stop.
“New Zealand are the best team in the world and they have been for the best part of a decade,” said O’Driscoll. “But Ireland have beaten them and are in pretty good shape, all things considered. I thought about it a few weeks ago and I think I’ll have a good punt on Ireland being in the World Cup final … I like their chances.
“We have a tough route from the quarter-finals. We will have to beat South Africa or New Zealand, but thereafter anything can happen. We will know by that point we have beaten the best teams in the world and we can do anything.”
As a man who has watched the game since the 1980s, O’Driscoll thinks the All Blacks are there for the taking.
“New Zealand look tired and don’t look at their best but maybe that’s a wake-up call they need,” he said. “However, there’s a nice balance in this Irish team of old and new.
“There is a real confidence and force behind Ireland. A real belief. They have a confidence in the way they are trained and the way they are drilled. They have suffered disappointments and lost close games but they have taken that and it has made them better.”