Alan Quinlan: Veterans of 2007 will not offer any mercy to minnows
Complacency shouldn't be an issue for Ireland despite the carnival atmosphere in Cardiff ahead of their World Cup opener against the Canadians
It's hard to imagine a more exciting time for rugby players than the days before a World Cup starts. I looked at the team as they headed off from Dublin Airport on Wednesday evening and the joy on their faces said it all: they can't wait for the competition to start and to get the preparations out of the way.
The anticipation has been building for a while, but it's finally here. This morning nervousness and apprehension will have replaced some of that child-like eagerness, but once the action begins this afternoon their professionalism will take control.
I've been in Cardiff for the last couple of days and you can see the carnival atmosphere beginning to take a grip on this rugby-mad city, and the Irish supporters having been in the thick of it all, soaking the excitement up.
Thinking back to my time in World Cup squads, 2003 and 2007 were most special because I was selected straight up from the start - 1999 was different for me because I was just called in to the squad as a replacement - but the buzz that the final few days of preparation brings is amazing.
Playing in a World Cup is a wonderful journey for a player. For the majority of players things don't pan out as they've planned, but right now, with so much hope and so many dreams there, the excitement is massive.
For me neither tournament went as I'd planned. I got injured in '03 and in '07 the whole competition was a disaster for us. But for this team I think things will be different. They are well prepared, there is no more holding back, and we'll all soon see just what this squad have been building towards for the last couple of years.
Ireland stuttered in the last few games with back-to-back defeats, but I think they will beat Canada comfortably this afternoon.
The Canadians are not in good shape coming into this tournament on the back of just two wins in their last 13 games stretching back to last summer. After beating Namibia in November they then lost seven on the bounce, before they finally got back to winning ways with a win over Georgia in a World Cup warm-up.
That run of defeats came against teams like the USA, Samoa, Tonga, Japan and Romania - it's not as if they've lost to the likes of New Zealand, France or Australia. Ireland should be beating the 18th-ranked team in the world by 50 or 60 points. That's the reality of it.
But on any given day things can go wrong for you. We saw it ourselves against Namibia and Georgia in 2007 where we were almost stunned: when a team pulls on their international shirt on the world stage strange things can happen. Invariably there will be at least one massive shock in this World Cup - it cannot come against Ireland.
IRELAND TEAM FIXTURES 2018
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I honestly think that we are gone beyond that tendency to struggle to beat weaker teams. Mentally we're strong; we have a lot characters in our side; we have a huge amount of experience; and having Paul O'Connell, Eoin Reddan and Rory Best as survivors from '07 will help this group. They remember what happened when we struggled to reproduce on the big stage and they won't let that happen for a second time.
Canada must be respected though. In Jamie Cudmore they have a guy that both Munster and Leinster have come across over the years. I played the day that himself and O'Connell famously clashed in the Heineken Cup. He has a lot of experience, and he'll lead the way and call for huge physicality from his team. That's their only hope really, to try and unsettle Ireland, but I think this Ireland squad will be primed for that.
Along with Cudmore, DTH van der Merwe and Jeff Hassler are very good players. Van der Merwe scored tries against both Ulster and Munster in last season's PRO12 knock-out stages and Hassler got one in the final too, but Canada's problem is that they don't have enough lads playing in the world's top leagues.
For a top European club to take a punt on a non-EU resident, they have to be a top-class operator. Those slots usually only go to big-name imports. They are excellent athletes, but not playing in those competitions means they fall behind in the skills of the game. That makes the loss of Tyler Ardron - who has played 43 times for Ospreys in the last two seasons - such a huge blow for them.
Cudmore and co will try to rally the troops and tell them Ireland are no superstars and that we can be beaten - they earned a 27-27 draw against us in 2000 in Markham - but that won't happen this time.
In the Ireland camp there is still a lot up for grabs. Tommy Bowe's omission is no surprise following his performance against England, but it's still tough on him. Joe Schmidt will look for a big reaction from him in the weeks to come.
Devin Toner is another man who will feel he has something to prove. The reality is he has done nothing wrong and played really well under Schmidt's management. Iain Henderson has forced his way into the team, and with Toner hoping for another chance and Donnacha Ryan pushing, lads like Peter O'Mahony, Jamie Heaslip and even Sean O'Brien will be looking for big performances.
Just look at Dave Kearney. I hadn't picked him in my original 31, but he's starting the first game. And, in fairness, you couldn't leave him out after that display against England.
Schmidt has stayed true to his promise to pick on performances in training and in the games, so lads know they need to take their chances when they come up. How he manages that in the next few weeks will be interesting.
The one exception to the rule seems to be Cian Healy. He hasn't played any rugby since the end of April and that must be a worry. Going straight onto the international arena after such a serious injury is difficult, but he is a remarkable character and player.
He has proven he can recover like that in the past and perform. Having him there is a massive boost, I hope it goes well for him.
What I would love to see is a ruthlessness about Ireland. I want them to take no pity on Canada when they get them on the rack. I want to see the number of individual errors and missed tackles obliterated. But most of all I want to see lads performing well and staking their claim on the jersey for the games ahead.
A win is crucial, a bonus point is very important, but a convincing performance is needed.