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Irish rugby legend Mick Galwey picks his World Cup winner

RugbyBy Mick Galwey
Iain Henderson is tackled by Vereniki Govena and Iliesa Ratuva,
Iain Henderson is tackled by Vereniki Govena and Iliesa Ratuva,

Here we go: A Rugby World Cup in which Ireland really have to set their sights on a semi-final place and which I predict, perhaps not popularly, that hosts England will go very close to winning.

We’ll start with Ireland, for whom the matches have come in a great order with Canada and Romania first, followed by Italy and then the giant game, against France, on Sunday October 11.

Of course, the French know that is a massive game too – the loser plays the All Blacks and neither team wants that for a quarter-final.

I’m not worried that Ireland lost to Wales and England in warm-up games.

It means there’s no danger of any complacency, Ireland have buckets to work on in the weeks leading up to the showdown with the French – because we know we are going to win the other games.

What Irish rugby needs is to get to October 11 with our main men, Johnny Sexton, Rob Kearney, Paul O’Connell, Sean O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip fit and well.

And if you want someone to join them as one of our elite during this World Cup, I nominate Iain Henderson.

I suspect the Ulster forward is going to have a very big World Cup.

He can play anywhere from four to eight and looks frighteningly fit – Henderson could be a big man for Ireland at this World Cup.

As for England, I just feel that if they can get out of their group, their momentum in front of passionate home support will allow the Red Rose to bloom.

Never mind them losing to France last month, it will be about what England do AT the World Cup, not before it.

Getting past one of Wales and Australia will be difficult for Stuart Lancaster’s crew.

However the task has to be a bit easier now that two of the Welsh stars,  Leigh Halfpenny and Rhys Webb, will miss the tournament through injury.

Speaking of that, don’t you think Wales coach Warren Gatland would prefer to have those two players fit, than to have won that game at the Aviva?

A fully-fit squad is what you want at the World Cup – you will lose enough players to injury during it, so starting the action without your top men already will be tough.

In fact it is bad news all round for the Welsh as I fancy Australia to have a big tournament.

They always seem to time their run well for a World Cup.

To add to the classy backs the Wallabies always seem to have, they have now brought in that fine Argentinian front-row man Mario Ledesma to coach that area of the game.

Throw in two brilliant back-rowers in Michael Hooper and David Pocock and the Aussies are a really strong bunch.

Coach Michael Cheika (below) will bring all the experience of European rugby that he gained at Leinster and Stade Francais to the table too.

Pressure

So, if England and Australia do well, what about the champions New Zealand?

Big pressure. The All Blacks have failed in five attempts to win the World Cup away from home.

And the loss to Australia in the Rugby Championship last month shows they are vulnerable.

They will certainly be cheering for France to lose to Ireland, because all Kiwis know what the French can do against the All Blacks in a one-off.

So it is set up for a great seven weeks of rugby. I say England can win it all and Ireland can get to the semi-final.

But isn’t this odd.

In all seven World Cups played so far, Ireland have never played England.

And we can’t meet them this year until the semi-final.

I’d settle for that, and for getting my prediction all wrong!