Sunday 19 November 2017

Tony Ward: Forget the ‘what ifs’ – Ireland have earned their lucky draw

Tony Ward

Tony Ward

WHAT if? Two small words that spring to mind in the aftermath of the World Cup draw in London.

And yes, it's an absolute nonsense to have the fundamental structure of rugby's biggest tournament determined so far out.

Indeed, to ask current players to give their take on potential matches three years down the track – when for a whole host of reasons they might not actually be involved – is a media exercise in futility.

It's not the players' fault, just the crazy way it is.

Yet, for all that, we on this little island should be thoroughly grateful for the bit of luck to come our way.

They do say you make your own luck and, to some extent, that's true given the way we performed in our last two matches of the November series, particularly the final blow-out against Argentina.

The size and nature of that win, allied with 2011 semi-finalists Wales all but shooting themselves in both feet by way of a disastrous autumn campaign (losing four from four), edged Declan Kidney's side into the top eight rankings and a ball in pot two.

At the same time, Warren Gatland's Welsh plummeted from a semi-final berth at New Zealand 2011 to pot three for 2015 all in the space of 12 short months. Given his November scouting mission for the Lions, did Gatland take his eye off the ball?

Although it was a fairly kind draw, our record against France, home or away or on neutral ground, is abysmal – but "yarra aren't the French bad travellers?".

Who comes up with this muck? Yet watch how often that line is trotted out over the next three years.

But back to 'what if'. What if we had missed out on that top eight finish and ended up swapping places with the Welsh?

Talk about the pool of death. We'd have been dead and buried psychologically long before the event even began.

It's some group all right. Australia, the host nation England (already destined for outright success in their own minds on their own patch), the Welsh (possibly playing their games in Wales), most likely a full-strength Fiji (hungry for revenge post-Limerick), plus one other qualifier still to be decided.

Come second in that pool, a mammoth achievement by any standard, and it would most likely be the Springboks next up. It doesn't bear thinking about.

Instead, we are in what amounts to a Six Nations dogfight against teams which, by dint of familiarity, we believe – rightly or wrongly – we can beat.

As an incentive to planning ahead, Pool D is a pretty good place to be. So, as World Cup draws go, this one is as good as it gets.

The 2015 draw also provided a diversion and added some badly needed spice to the November break from the real thing. The real thing? The most eagerly awaited back-to-back segment of the Heineken Cup, and it's already under way.

Last night, in Northampton and Galway, today in Limerick and tomorrow in deepest France, tribal rugby hits overdrive.

If this doesn't float your rugby boat then I don't know what does.

Irish Independent

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