Rugby-Injuries permitting, Ireland can make last four - O'Shea
DUBLIN, Sept 1 |
DUBLIN, Sept 1 (Reuters) - An unbelievably talented group of Irish players have a realistic chance of making the rugby World Cup semi-finals but injuries to key personnel could trigger another disappointing campaign, former Ireland fullback Conor O'Shea told Reuters.
Ireland arrive in New Zealand with a squad packed full of Six Nations grand slam winners and twice Heineken Cup champions, desperate to make up for a miserable campaign four years ago where they misfired spectacularly.
O'Shea, a veteran of two World Cups who is currently director of rugby at English club Harlequins, believes Declan Kidney's side can go further than ever before providing the likes of captain Brian O'Driscoll remain fit.
"I think there is a realistic chance of Ireland making the semi-finals for the first time but we have to arrive there fit," O'Shea, a European Challenge Cup winner with Harlequins this year, told Reuters in a telephone interview.
"We've got an unbelievably talented group of players but you'd also say there are some untouchables there. We really need the O'Driscolls, (Jamie) Heaslips, (Paul) O'Connells, the (Ronan) O'Garas, (Jonny) Sextons in prime nick."
While O'Shea says there are similarly untouchable players in every team -- New Zealand's Dan Carter and Richie McCaw or Australia's Quade Cooper and Will Genia -- Ireland lack the depth at second row or centre to make up for the loss of either O'Driscoll or O'Connell.
The former London Irish player and director says despite having a scrum capable of doing a number on Pool C top seeds Australia, he doesn't think Ireland will be able to get the better of Cooper and Genia's "all singing, all dancing back play" when the sides meet on Sept. 17.
Nor does he think it's as decisive a game as many are predicting - a victory and pool-topping performance would set Ireland up with a likely last eight game against Wales or Samoa rather than holders South Africa.
"I'm one of those people that doesn't think Ireland necessarily have to win their group to do something," O'Shea, who won 35 caps and was one of Ireland's few outstanding backs during the lean years of the 1990s.
"The Australia game isn't as big as everyone is making it out to be - it's a big game but it won't determine our tournament. Playing South Africa in a quarter-final doesn't mean it's over.
"The flip side, a good few injuries and you arrive against Italy for the final pool game needing to win and it's a tough, tough ask because Italy aren't going to be mugs. If we lose a few players, it becomes a different game."
Another worry is the fact that Ireland have struggled in their preparations for the finals -- losing all four warm up games in a programme designed to battle-harden a squad who went to the last World Cup desperately short of competitive rugby.
However O'Shea is not overly concerned about the side's form and says there is little chance of a repeat of 2007's struggles where they only narrowly beat lowly Georgia and failed to get out of their group.
"If it wasn't a happy camp, we'd have lost these friendlies comfortably. We haven't because the boys look like they want to play for each other massively and we just have to start attacking better," said O'Shea, who previously led both the English Institute of Sport and England's national rugby academy.
"For a lot of these guys, O'Driscoll in particular, it's their last World Cup and they won't allow it happen."
(Edited by Patrick Johnston; To query or comment on this story email email@example.com)
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