There was no shortage of pessimism around after Ireland’s disappointing opener, but it is early days yet. Getting through without injury and the full five points may be the only bright side we should care about at the moment, but as Andy Robinson noted last Saturday, Ireland have the toughest task ahead of them of all the Northern nations. And the ‘war’ for us, has not yet begun:
England and Wales have the best draws in this World Cup. Ireland and Scotland, on the other hand, have absolute shockers. It is not the quality of opposition that concerns them so much as the schedule. Ireland have two straightforward games, against Namibia and Georgia, before playing France and Argentina. Scotland go in against Portugal and Romania before meeting the All Blacks and Italy. The programme means these countries would have to play five huge matches back-to-back to win the title. To my mind, it cannot be done.
Quite honestly, I don’t believe Scotland seriously believe they can reach the final, irrespective of the draw. Their major issue is the New Zealand game at Murrayfield on 23 September, six days before the meeting with Italy. Will Frank Hadden, their coach, field a second-string team while ensuring that his senior side are well-rested for the Azzurri? He must be sorely tempted.
Ireland, by contrast, have designs on making it through to the last four – maybe even further. But no team has faced a fixture list like this one. Five massive games on the bounce, in a tournament as competitive as this, is too much to ask. There seems to have been precious little understanding of the realities of rugby union on the part of the fixture planners. If Ireland reach the final, it will be the greatest performance by any team in the history of the international game.