'Ireland has a great chance of winning' - Columnists launch INM Rugby World Cup coverage
The level of expectation is at an all-time high - but top rugby analysts have predicted that Ireland has gone to a whole new level and has 'a real shot' in the World Cup.
But France could emerge as the real danger, former International Mick Galwey has warned.
At an exclusive Rugby World Cup 2015 launch hosted by Independent News & Media, Ireland's top rugby pundits, Tony Ward, Neil Francis, Mick Galwey, former All Black Isa Nacewa and Vincent Hogan expressed their hopes for an exciting showdown.
Some 20 years after he had last played in the World Cup, Neil Francis admitted he still cannot watch some matches now, saying: "I just get so wound up about them" and that he “couldn't watch” last year's Six Nations.
Nevertheless, he still wants an “entertaining” World Cup this year.
"The World Cup has to be entertaining but the product has not matched expectation," he claimed.
He said there must be four or five 'brilliant' matches that capture the imagination.
Those present at the panel discussion in Dublin included CEO of INM Robert Pitt; Editor in Chief at INM, Stephen Rae and board members including Jerome Kennedy, as well as Group Sports Head of Content, Dave Courtney.
Guests included Senator Shane Ross; Marie Therese Campbell of the Marketing Institute of Ireland and key marketing and advertising clients of INM from agencies such as Strarcom and Irish International.
Mr Rae said the night's event was about showcasing INM as a key rugby brand on this island, with the best rugby writers.
Recovering from an ear infection, Irish rugby legend Tony Ward said the level of expectation was at an all-time high - and deservedly so - as Ireland prepares for the World Cup, with the first match against Canada.
Describing Joe Schmidt as "the top coach in the world", he said we were very fortunate who we have in control at the moment.
"There's a strength and depth we haven't had in a considerable amount of time," he added.
He predicted that the first two games against Canada and then Romania should be easy ones - but things will get tougher with the Italy game. But the finish off against France on October 11 "will decide our World Cup in so many ways," he said.
Ireland were excited going to France in 2007 - but it backfired badly. This time round, we're in with a real shot, he predicted.
Former Ireland International Mick Galwey echoed his words, saying Ireland has given great results, has shown a lot of bottle and has gone to a whole new level.
"This time round I think we're in with a great chance," he said.
Meanwhile he expressed hope that the players and Joe Schmidt would have a few tricks up their sleeve.
"My real worry is France," he said, given that they have been away to camps and are a "rugby world cup side."
"The most important thing is that we don't get any injuries. If not, we'll have a great chance," he added.
Former All Black, Isa Nacewa revealed that it was only at the gripping end of the last Six Nations that New Zealand finally realised what the powerhouse of Irish rugby.
That was when the hairs finally stood up on the back of everyone's necks and they started to take notice, he claimed.
He will be wearing his "Irish hat" during the World Cup, he said - though he has spent the last 18 months to two years living Down Under.