Ireland v Canada (19th Sep, Millennium Stadium, 14:30)
France v Italy (19th Sep, Twickenham, 20:00)
France v Romania (23rd Sep, Olympic Stadium, 20:00)
Italy v Canada (26th Sep, Elland Road 14:30)
Ireland v Romania (27th Sep, Wembley Stadium, 16:45)
France v Canada (1st Oct, Stadium Mk, 20:00)
Ireland v Italy (4th Oct, Olympic Stadium, 16:45)
Canada v Romania (6th Oct, Leicester City Stadium, 16:45)
Italy v Romania (11th Oct, Sandy Park, 14:30)
France v Ireland (11th Oct, Millennium Stadium, 16:45)
Imagine that the Argentines beat the New Zealanders on the opening weekend of pool C. The final Pool D game between the French and Ireland might have a rather different complexion then.
Ireland could not have asked for a kinder schedule though. Their opening fixtures against Canada and Romania should allow Jonny Sexton and any other players carrying worrying niggles a little extra time to acclimatise to tournament Rugby. The last few years under Schmidt could not have gone any better. Two six nations’ titles added along with an incredibly impressive showing in last year’s autumn internationals with victories against Australia and South Africa. The only complaint one could have is that the talent at the back of the pitch isn’t being utilised as much as we first hoped. Ireland traditionally have been a power team and under Schmidt we have seen no changes there. What a team that is though. The pack that has been so impressive of late will be marshalled by O’Connell, making his final appearances in green. He will captain the team with calmness and experience and should have plenty of time against Canada and Romania to get his forwards into the right mentality. His ball carrying skills will be crucial and his physicality will be needed in the French game to deal with a simply massive French side. Cian Healy’s return to fitness will hopefully go smoothly as his talent as a ball carrier was missed by Ireland in the warm up games. The loss to England in their final warmup game might be a good thing for the squad as a whole, dispelling any notions that they would not need to work for this.
In Jonny Sexton Ireland have one of the best controllers of the midfield in the world as his relationship with the players inside him and with Murray is fantastic. The emergence of Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne in this year’s Six Nations also bodes well for the team. Darcy and O’Driscoll played with such distinction through their careers that it was conceivable that it would be a problem position for Ireland for years to come. Not on recent evidence though. The exclusion of Isaac Boss places some pressure on Ian Madigan who is expected to fill in as an emergency 9 and 13. The full back position has some of the highest competition with the Kearney brothers battling for the full back positions along with Tommie Bowe. The wing positions also provide Schmidt with a headache, Zebo will hope that his pre-tournament form gives him a starting place.
The difference for Ireland might come from Schmidt, his organisational talent will give the team a strong basis for success. The team will need all of their guile to progress but if they meet England in the semi-final then they can begin to dream.
Won a single game in world cup matches and after their terrible performance in the Pacific Nations Cup where they lost every game. The worry is that they will somehow cause Ireland problems in their opening game but I wouldn’t expect much from them.
Perennial world cup competitors their recent losses to Georgia and Russia don’t bode well but they might get a win against the Canadians.
Always the hardest team to predict before any tournament. They could win the whole thing or they could lose to Canada. They look an awful lot fitter than they have previously and the strength that they have throughout the team will cause opponents a lot of problems. The battle between Michalak and Sexton will have a strong deciding factor in the final pool game. Michalak has plenty of experience but has failed to control the game in the way his talent should warrant. Their opening match against Italy will be crucial. They will need to win, to both settle their own nerves and a loss against them might put them in third place come the end of the pool. Their set pieces are accomplished and the power that they have will overload many teams.
Will not get out of the pool. Their matches against Scotland left a lot to be desired but they will have success against Canada and Romania. The opening match against France will control their destiny. They need to make sure to control the game with their traditional forward power but I simply cannot see them coming close to a win.