Roy Curtis answers seven big questions ahead of the Rugby World Cup
We asked Sunday World Chief Sports Writer Roy Curtis for his expert views on the eagerly-awaited Rugby World Cup which kicks-off on Friday.
And for those of you who believe Ireland can go on to win the Webb Ellis Cup for the first time, he delivers a damning prediction of imminent failure for Joe Schmidt and the boys.
Here are his views on how the tournament will pan out...
1 – WHO WILL WIN THE WORLD CUP?
New Zealand. From a final four of Australia, England, France and the All Blacks, the defending champions – whose strength in depth is such that they could leave superstars Israel Dagg and Corey Jane out of their squad of 31 – will defeat Stuart Lancaster’s hosts in the decider to become the first nation to lift the Webb Ellis Cup on three occasions.
2 – HOW FAR WILL IRELAND GO?
Ireland will deliver the house special – a quarter-final exit. The only one of the world’s top nine teams never to have reached the last four, a pool loss to France will set up an elite-eight tussle with New Zealand.
And given Ireland’s calamitous record against rugby’s most storied force – over the course of 110 years of combat it reads: Played 28, Won 0, with a points deficit of 502 – that should be good night and God bless.
3 – WHAT WOULD BE YOUR PREFERRED IRISH STARTING XV?
Dave Kearney has made a compelling case to be included, Tommy Bowe has used up all his penalty points and has to go; Sean Cronin and Iain Henderson are two dynamic, ball-carrying springers. If he’s fit, Cian Healy plays. My team would read: R. Kearney; Zebo, Payne, Henshaw, D. Kearney; Sexton, Murray; Healy, Cronin, Ross; Henderson, O’Connell; O’Mahony, O’Brien, Heaslip.
4 – WHAT ARE IRELAND’S STRENGTHS?
An astute coach in Joe Schmidt, a battled-hardened dual Six Nations winning side, a strong half-back combination and a soft draw.
5 – WHAT ARE IRELAND’S WEAKNESSES?
A sudden depressurising of the cabin has seen them rapidly lose altitude in recent weeks.
Their form – with Bowe merely the worst offender – is awful. Jamie Heaslip has laboured, Sexton (below, left) has yet to move through the gears.
Ireland’s overly-structured attack lacks variety – they don’t score enough tries. And the ease with which they are being burgled – a missed tackle count of 72 in three games against England (twice) and France – suggests Joe needs to get on the phone to Eircom Phone Watch.
6 – WHO IS THE IRISH PLAYER TO WATCH?
Iain Henderson, 6’6”, 18st 3lb. A Panzer tank with afterburners, the 22-year-old can emerge as a global superstar. All it requires is Schmidt to pick him ahead of the labouring Devin Toner.
7 – WHO ARE YOUR ‘PLAYER OF THE TOURNAMENT’ CONTENDERS?
Israel Folau (Australia): A magnificent freak of nature who has excelled at Australian Rules and both rugby codes.
Yohan Huget (France): A dancing diamond on the wing. Frightening combination of power and panache.
Dan Carter (New Zealand): He’s 33 now, but delivered a stinging rebuke to those who deemed him past it in an Eden Park exhibition against Australia that emphasised he remains the alpha male of out-halves.