World Rugby's World Cup seeding announcement tees up a massive year for the Irish team
The 2019 World Cup feels a lifetime away at the moment but today's World Rugby announcement has brought the tournament sharply into view.
The governing body confirmed that they will set the World Cup seedings, which are based off the world rankings, in May 2017, which means that Ireland have 12 games to play before their pool fate is decided.
A top four seeding is obviously the goal but with that looking increasingly unlikely for Joe Schmidt's side, Ireland will be looking to consolidate their place in the next four spots.
Ireland are currently ranked seventh in the world, two ranking points behind Argentina and two ahead of France and Scotland.
In May 2017, that will be good enough for Ireland to be second seeds in the World Cup draw.
World Cup pool draw next May, Ireland's next 12 games massive. Good job they're all gimmes... pic.twitter.com/UQ9ahRvzqQ— Rúaidhrí O'Connor (@RuaidhriOC) May 11, 2016
The story of Wales before the last World Cup will serve as a cautionary tale to the Irish team this time around, after Warren Gatland's side's slump in form dropped them down into the third pot, where they were given a hugely difficult World Cup pool featuring Australia and England.
As a result of that lopsided pool, World Rugby has given sides an extra Six Nations period before finalising the seedings this time around.
Today's announcement puts even more pressure on Schmidt's men as they travel to South Africa for a three test series this summer. They will enter into an equally daunting autumn series featuring games against the All Blacks (twice), Canada and Australia.
In contrast, Scotland's next five games feature clashes against Japan (twice), Argentina, Australia and Georgia so next season's Six Nations will have even higher stakes than usual, with teams competing for World Cup seedings as well as a Grand Slam.