Wood: We are world-beaters so let's aim for the very top
Even if expectation doesn't always sit well with the Irish sports psyche, Keith Wood reckons Ireland have too far gone to turn back. It's time, he says, to embrace the tag of being one of the world's best.
Joe Schmidt's team are no longer, 'on the day' merchants. It's not blood and thunder they trade on any more. When you're on a nine-game winning streak, ranked fourth in the world and six months out from a World Cup, there has to be more than that.
There'll be another yardstick to measure themselves by on Sunday with the visit of England. All going well, the two sides could meet again this year in a World Cup semi-final. And this team has to be comfortable with such talk.
"We are prone to losing the run of ourselves just as much as anyone else," said Wood, at the launch of TV3's Rugby World Cup coverage that will see the channel broadcast all 48 games live.
"My God, can we really do it. It depends on what it is based upon. If it is based upon one result, we set ourselves up for a fall very quickly. Unless the foundations are there that you can fall back on if everything isn't going your way, then that expectation is unheralded.
"But we have won nine on the trot, we have to start believing we are a pretty damn good side. We are ranked three or four in the world. We are way up there so we shouldn't be embarrassed about the fact that we are pretty good."
Whether that's good enough to get past England at the Aviva, Wood can't decide. Ireland are further ahead in their development than Stuart Lancaster's side but as Wood points out, no one does confidence like England.
International Rugby Newsletter
Their win in Wales, where they were battered early on but recovered, was an example of that inner-belief. Coming to Dublin to face an in-form Ireland won't faze them.
"England have a great capacity to believe they're better than they are when they're on the way up," said the former Ireland and Lions hooker.
"I've said this all along and I get slagged off for calling them arrogant, but I don't use that as a slur, I think it's very impressive that they have that level of confidence, even if they don't have a team on paper that looks like world-beaters.
"I think they play as a team that knows how to build a score and to eke out a win, they do that all the time.
"They were blown off the field in Cardiff in the first half - Wales were strutting their stuff and England were beaten and beleaguered.
"At half-time they just reversed the tables and I thought it was very impressive - we're definitely not used to seeing a northern hemisphere team bully a big Welsh team like that.
"That doesn't happen, and it happened, and it happened in spades. I thought it was fantastic and suddenly you can see their belief."
Sunday will come down to small margins, Wood says.
England might have the edge in the front-row where he expects them to target Mike Ross but they'll also miss Mike Brown. And anyway, Schmidt will have a plan. He always has a plan. And part of that is to have his team at their zenith when the World Cup kicks off in September, rather than this week.
"When you have a good team and a good coach you have to aim for the top. A World Cup semi is fine but just because we haven't made the step from the quarter-final I wouldn't stop there. Do you look at the thing half-full or half-empty?
"I had this conversation with Drico (Brian O'Driscoll). He said 'get to the semi-final that's all you need to worry about - then it's one knockout game from the final and winner takes all'.
"That's fine but would you be disappointed if they got to a semi-final and didn't fulfil their potential to go all the way?
"You need to be dreaming about the possibility of winning the World Cup."
Tough fight for RWC 2023
World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper has warned that Ireland face "ferocious" competition to host the 2023 World Cup.
The announcement won't be made for more than two years, with the likes of South Africa (who were defeated in bids in 2011, 2015 and 2019), France and even the USA all rumoured to be considering hosting the tournament.
There is a school of thought that the authorities will bring the 2023 tournament back to a stronghold of the game after Japan hosts the 2019 competition but Gosper insisted there is no favourite at this stage.
"There will be we think quite a broad group and quite ferocious competition for Ireland.
"I think Ireland will be a terrific candidate but ultimately it will be voted for by a committee, the council in May 2017."