Tuesday 16 July 2019

Byrne believes England are starting to find their mojo again

Former Ireland international Shane Byrne. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Former Ireland international Shane Byrne. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Between them, they have made 22 World Cup appearances, so it's fair to say that Malcolm O'Kelly, Marcus Horan and Shane Byrne know a thing or two about the potential pitfalls of competing for rugby's biggest prize of all.

All three former internationals are upbeat about Ireland's chances in Japan, however, even if there are a couple of cautionary notes.

Ireland will kick off the defence of their Six Nations title against England next weekend and both Horan and Byrne can see similarities between the path that Joe Schmidt's side are currently on and the England team who won the 2003 World Cup.

"My worry is that we write off teams like Australia or even England, depending on how the Six Nations goes, but these teams are traditionally good at World Cup time, no matter how their previous season has gone - so I think we do that at our peril," Horan, who won 67 caps for Ireland, insists.

"If we start talking about it being us and the All Blacks, that's the rock you perish on. I don't think Joe Schmidt has that mentality, and I think that's another positive that we have, that these lads won't lose the run of themselves.

"If you look back on the year that England won it in 2003, they actually won all round them, they went to New Zealand the previous summer and beat them there.

"I think these guys are gung-ho to be as dominant as they can be over the next couple of years."

Byrne echoed Horan's sentiments: "My worry is that this is going to be one of the most difficult Six Nations in many a year.

"England are starting to find their mojo again, Scotland are still going steady and Wales have won eight games on the trot.

"It used to be that when we had England and France at home we could do something - but those away games are going to be so, so hard this year. I really do think it's going to tell a tale.

"The closest reference we have is England in '02 and '03, they started winning regularly against southern hemisphere sides as we are doing now, and then they ended up winning the Grand Slam in the Six Nations against us at Lansdowne Road. They are the statements that you're going to want to make."

O'Kelly, the most experienced ex-international out of the trio having played 92 times for Ireland, is adamant that Schmidt has learned from the mistakes of four years ago.

"I would be very optimistic in how we're playing the game, we're very much leading the way in how it should be played, whereas in previous World Cups, sometimes we think we know where we're at and it turned out a month's preparation changes where the game goes.

"I think Ireland have more time together during the year than other teams, so perhaps they'll benefit less from that period. If you get to a semi-final, what's to stop you getting to a final?

"It's only one team, they've beaten every team in the world, so what's to stop them going all the way? It's not to say they will, but they've more of an opportunity now to do it than ever before.

"England will be buoyed from their last few games - certainly against Australia - so they'll go in with confidence, as will we, but it's who comes out on the right foot, it could be the start of something, or a very quick scenario where we have to recover."

Meanwhile, the Italian Rugby Federation (FIR) have rubbished reports that Conor O'Shea is set to be replaced as head coach.

Racing 92's coaching duo Laurent Travers and Laurent Labit were linked with O'Shea's position, but the union have moved quickly to give their "full support" to the former Ireland international ahead of the upcoming Six Nations.

The 48-year-old is in his third year as Italy's boss and begin their Six Nations campaign against Scotland next weekend.

"Unfounded rumours: Maximum support to Conor, staff and our blues for the Six Nations," FIR president Alfredo Gavazzi wrote on Twitter.

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