All eyes on London as Ireland to learn World Cup rivals
Published 03/12/2012 | 05:00
England showed that anything is possible if ambition is matched by good technique, effective tactics and the requisite injection of determination, drive and spirit. All 11 teams joining New Zealand in today's draw will do so with fresh encouragement and renewed hope.
How so? Because it has been proven that the world champions are mortal. Indeed, were it not for some extremely dubious refereeing decisions it is arguable that France, and not New Zealand, would be world champions. In the eyes of many they had legitimate claims in that final as a number of apparent New Zealand transgressions somehow went unpunished.
It might seem especially hard here in Ireland to reconcile the view that New Zealand are mortal after the humiliation of the Hamilton Test in the summer. Yet England's achievement is a welcome balm to Ireland's wounds, especially as there is a one in four chance of being drawn in the same pool as the All Blacks.
New Zealand were undefeated for 20 matches before Twickenham but failed to match an exuberant England who, just like France had suggested on the biggest stage of all last year, proved that they are not an invincible force.
England's victory was especially timely for the IRB as it will excite more interest in today's draw.
Ireland, by virtue of last month's victory over Argentina, will be included in the second band of seeds for this afternoon's draw alongside the Pumas, who swapped places with Wales on Saturday, Samoa and England.
Bands four and five are distributed across the continents through a series of lower-profile regional competitions. Europe and the Americas are afforded another two places, Africa one place, and Oceania one place.
The real benefit of Ireland's sixth-place ranking is that they will, as coach Declan Kidney emphasised after the Argentina victory, enjoy an extra day or two between matches, whereas the lesser ranked teams might only have four or five days in between outings.
"You saw in 2011 when Samoa had a five-day turnaround. That makes it a very different competition. The extra day(s) the higher-ranked teams enjoy is very important, especially with keeping everyone fit," said Kidney.
Of course it will be remembered that despite having a seven-day gap between matches Ireland still didn't progress past the quarter-finals of last year's competition. It will be imperative that Ireland improve this time around, irrespective of the pool draw.
The timing of the pool draw seems especially premature because two-fifths of the teams involved have yet to be decided, with some qualification competitions going on until 2014.
For Ireland, in logistical terms, there is very little to be gained by today's draw.
None of the venues will be known, so the IRFU cannot start planning for the competition with regard to determining a suitable base.
There will be some productivity from the meeting between team managers – for Ireland, Mick Kearney – as some logistics surrounding the competition will be discussed, but aside from that the draw is more about building hype ahead of a year when the Lions will dominate.