by Frank Schnittger
Mon Oct 5th, 2015 at 07:32:37 AM EST
England, despite home advantage, have crashed out of the World Cup beaten by their own expectations and two very good Wales and Australia performances. Some crunch matches remain - notably Australia vs. Wales and France vs. Ireland to see who wins their respective pools and thus how, exactly, the quarter-finalists will match up. But the likelihood of an upset is now very small and only Japan, of the Tier 2 nations, have a realistic chance of progressing if they beat the USA and Scotland fail to beat Samoa.
The Quarter-finalists will thus likely be very much as I predicted in Rugby World Cup with Wales replacing England. Hardly a shock result as results between them have tended to be 50:50. What is remarkable is that Wales have achieved this despite losing 6 of their best backs to injury. Good team management, spirit, cohesion and tactical nous still counts for a lot in rugby. However after Australia's convincing win against England, it is hard to bet against them beating Wales and winning the pool. Both France and Ireland have been under-whelming to date, so it will be interesting to see who comes out on top on Sunday 11th. October.
France have shown some signs of improvement and at least have a settled team with few injuries. Having become famous for never picking the same team twice, French Coach Philippe Saint-Andre now has a settled team with greater tactical cohesion. The question is how much will France improve on the often indifferent displays of the past few years.
Ireland gave a nervy, conservative, mistake ridden performance against Italy in keeping with their stereotype of never performing well when over-whelming favourites. How much this was due to a much improved display by Italy remains to be seen.
It is interesting to compare the current Irish team with the team that has won the 6 Nation titles in 2014 and 2015:
Brian O'Driscoll, widely recognised as one of the best players in the World, has retired, but he was past his best for the 2014 6N title, and Ireland won the title this year without him
- Healy and McGrath are both match fit at the same time for the first time in a long time;
- Rory Best is in the form of his life;
- Nathan White is providing quality back-up to Ross;
- Henderson has added a new dimension to our forward play;
- O'Connell is still in his prime and we have Toner and Ryan for back-up;
- 7,& 8. O'Brien, O'Mahony, Heaslip and Henry are all fit at the same time;
- & 10. Murray and Sexton are both fit and at the peak of their powers; Madigan has more experience as an international 10 and 12 and Reddan is still playing well
- & 13. Henshaw and Payne have more experience as an international centre pairing
- & 14. We have 4 top wingers all fit and in form and raring for game time
- Zebo is becoming a real option to Kearney and provides something different.
There are viable options within the squad should anyone get injured and Head Coach Joe Schmidt has had more time to inculcate a variety of game plans into the team. Overall, Ireland are in rude health and those players short of match fitness prior to the world Cup have now had a chance to catch up.
Opposition teams, too, have improved with more preparation time leading into the World cup, but on paper Ireland are a better team/squad than ever before. All of that improvement will be needed to beat France and progress in the tournament, but there is at least some basis for the perennial Irish optimism as the World Cup progresses towards the knock-out stages.