Saturday 16 February 2019

Howlett backs Schmidt's troops to put warm-up woes behind them and 'go deep'

Doug Howlett says Ireland have a chance if they come across New Zealand
Doug Howlett says Ireland have a chance if they come across New Zealand
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

All Black legend Doug Howlett says Ireland fans should not read too much into their successive losses to England and Wales as he believes Joe Schmidt's side can make a big impact at the World Cup.

The former Munster winger believes too much can be read into the pre-tournament form, and reckons the Six Nations champions can grow into their game over the coming months.

While Howlett reckons New Zealand can live up to their favourites' tag, he says they won't fancy a quarter-final date with either Ireland or France - one of whom are likely to be their opponents in the last eight.

"Having been involved in preparation for the World Cup, what you've done beforehand doesn't count for a lot," he said.

"I remember playing for the All Blacks against Australia in a Tri-Nations game in 2003 and we put 50 points on them.

"That was three or four weeks before the World Cup, but they ended up beating us in the semi-final of the World Cup a few weeks later.

"I see that in this Irish team, they're working on things and as athletes it's a difficult time. You're so close, you just want to get there. You want to be at the World Cup.

"I do feel that's playing on the players' minds and now that they're in the squad and on their way I'd like to see a steady improvement leading into the pool games."

Howlett says Ireland have a chance if they come across New Zealand, despite never having beaten the world champions.

"It's a wonderful panel that they're taking over and I wouldn't see the end of the road as a quarter-final with the All Blacks either," the AIG ambassador said.

"They showed a couple of years ago that they are right there with the All Blacks.

"I see them going deep into this tournament.

"They'll build in the tournament, there are some games which allow them to do that but everyone's going to be pushing for places at the same time.

"Joe Schmidt has done a wonderful job in terms of creating competition for places and I think that only strengthens the squad. Ireland versus France in the last pool game will be a game to look out for."

Howlett finished playing for his country after the 2007 tournament, but a couple of his old team-mates remain.

And he believes the likes of Richie McCaw, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock and Dan Carter can guide their side through any rocky moments.

"I guess expectation is high, but the fact is that once you get to knockout rugby anything can happen," he said.

"The reality is that every opposition that plays against the All Blacks, that's their final. Whether it's the quarter-final, the semis or the final itself, they give it all and it's going to be difficult.

"There's some super teams. If you look down the All Blacks path, it could be an Ireland or France quarter-final. I couldn't pick it at this stage, I'd have to see how form goes.

"With the scare that Ireland gave us in 2013, and we all know France's history against the All Blacks. . . let's get through the pool and then focus on that.

"I certainly do (think they can live up to their billing), having been through that process myself as a player with the finishing line in sight, you want to make the finishing post a winner.

"You want to be remembered for your last few games and I'm sure these guys would want to make them the best that they've played."

Irish Independent

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