Saturday 29 October 2016

Best hails Ireland squad depth

Published 19/06/2015 | 21:01

Ireland will not make the same mistakes of previous Rugby World Cup tournaments, according to their former prop Simon Best.

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Joe Schmidt's side are currently third in the International Rugby Board rankings and head into the 2015 World Cup this autumn full of confidence having won the last two Six Nations Championship titles.

But Ireland have never progressed beyond the quarter-final stage in seven World Cups and Best - who played at the 2003 and 2007 tournaments, the latter when they even failed to make it out of the group stages - is fully aware that history is against Schmidt's men.

"We always seem to have disappointing World Cups," Best told Press Association Sport.

"But this is a different era and a different Irish squad now.

"We're in a similar position to where we were in 2003 going into the first warm-up game in France as we were third in the rankings.

"We had the potential to win but fell flat on our faces, but the difference now is we've got better depth below the first 15.

"There are 30 or 31 players who could get in that first team and you could argue there are another 10 guys who could be in the squad but won't make it.

"That's something we've struggled with in the past and the squads with the greatest depth are the ones that float to the top of the tournament as it goes on."

Ireland start out in September against the two weakest teams in their pool, Canada and Romania, before meeting Italy and then France in their final group game.

The potential magnitude of the France game is not lost on Best as the losers are likely to face World Cup holders and tournament favourites New Zealand in a Cardiff quarter-final.

"Let's leave New Zealand to the final!" laughed Best, brother of the current Ireland hooker Rory.

"Playing Italy will be a fantastic experience at the Olympic Stadium but it looks as if the big game will be against France at the Millennium Stadium.

"You never know what can happen with France at a World Cup and the worry for us is that they haven't done much in the Six Nations in recent years.

"But a lot might depend on that one because you'll probably play Argentina next and have the potential to be in the semi-final.

"Maybe then you can put pressure on teams like South Africa and New Zealand who are expected to win, and we have shown in the past that we can do well against those teams.

"We have beaten Australia and South Africa and we almost beat New Zealand a couple of years ago, so we will better for that experience if we find ourselves in that position again."

Best joined the Rugby World Cup tour around Ireland on Friday as the Webb Ellis Trophy dropped in on Ulster's Kingspan Stadium and his own local club, Banbridge in County Down.

The former Ulster captain said excitement was building in Ireland ahead of the tournament as there is a belief in the country that they compete against the world's best.

"We got in a good position in 2011 by beating Australia at the pool stage and then let ourselves down against Wales in the quarter-final," Best said.

"But we're strong in areas we haven't been before, such as the front row where we've got depth, and although we were criticised last season for our attacking prowess I'm sure Joe Schmidt will come up with some things we've not seen before.

"The squad has blossomed under Joe and he has put in a game plan which has given Ireland credibility on the global stage.

"The World Cup could also be a fitting send-off for Paul O'Connell on the international stage, he has been a great ambassador for Irish rugby and this tournament could be his legacy.

"It's the most wide-open tournament ever as I think six or seven teams have the potential to win it - and Ireland are one of them."

Press Association

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