'They've unearthed new players' - Austin Healey on why Ireland have a 'really good chance' of winning the World Cup
BT pundit Austin Healey says that Ireland have a 'really good chance' of winning the 2019 Rugby World Cup - provided they don't pick up any injuries to key players.
Ireland's attempt to reach a first ever World Cup semi-final was scuppered in 2015 after Paul O'Connell, Jared Payne, Johnny Sexton and Peter O'Mahony were ruled out of the quarter-final against Argentina through injury, with Joe Schmidt vowing to build sufficient strength and depth to withstand a similar casualty list in Japan.
However, Healey thinks that it is paramount that Schmidt has a full squad to choose from in two years time, and that the young players blooded during November could be the difference this time around.
Speaking on Rugby Tonight on BT Sport last night, the outspoken pundit explained why he is bullish on Ireland's World Cup chances.
"They've unearthed a few new players and that is probably the thing they needed the most," Healey said.
"Ireland's first choice team, particularly with the group they've got at the World Cup, means they are going to go through to the knockout stages. Then if they can keep everyone fit, they have a really good chance of winning the next World Cup.
"They are not going to be favourites, they aren't going to be in the top four favourites but for me, they definitely are. They are going to win that group and they have some pace out wide now. Byrne, I thought, was particularly impressive. You have some size as well with Stockdale.
"Ireland had a very successful autumn, weren't tested that much, but are really on the right road towards the World Cup."
Ireland have been drawn in a World Cup group with hosts Japan, Scotland and two other teams yet to be determined.
Subscribe to The Left Wing, Independent.ie's Rugby podcast, with Luke Fitzgerald and Will Slattery for the best discussion and analysis each week. From in depth interviews with some of Irish rugby's biggest stars to unmatched insights into the provinces and the national team, The Left Wing has all your rugby needs covered.