It’s great to see the community of Kiltoom getting behind their man Jack Carty ahead of Ireland’s Rugby World Cup opener against Scotland in Yokohama this Sunday. The sign displayed on the way to Athlone may not be the last of its kind either judging by the rugby talent being produced in ‘St. Brigid’s country’!
These are strange days in Irish Rugby circles. The team is ranked number one in the world and contains top-class talent in most if not all positions, and yet the tsunami of hype that usually surrounds Irish teams ahead of major tournaments seems to have slowed to a trickle.
The general consensus is that this World Cup has come along a year too late for Joe Schmidt’s men and the world ranking doesn’t accurately reflect the current state of world rugby. Ask most Irish supporters and they’ll tell you our ‘Team of Us’ are outsiders behind the likes of New Zealand, South Africa and, perish the thought, England. Some even argue (quite legitimately) that there’s no guarantee Ireland will be the biggest fish in their own pool.
Despite all this new-found rugby negativity, I’m looking forward to Sunday’s showdown with the Scots. The favourite’s tag has never sat well with the Irish psyche and the hype which surrounded Ireland ahead of World Cups in the past certainly didn’t help.
The fact is, despite the current world ranking, Ireland are arguably the World Cup’s biggest underachievers. Six times an Irish team has fallen at the quarter-finals stage. We have never gone beyond that. Even our opening opponents Scotland have made the semi-finals (1991). Even Argentina have third and fourth-placed finishes to their name (2007 and 2015), as do Wales (1987 and 2011).
Going into this tournament without the hype and expectation might actually suit us. Past results would suggest that a quarter-final place is the best we can expect…but part of the excitement is hoping for more!