Ireland v Canada, Saturday 19th September 2:30pm ITV
Ireland v Romania, Sunday 27th September 4:45pm ITV
Ireland v Italy, Sunday 4th October 4:45pm ITV
France v Ireland, Sunday 11th October 4:45pm ITV
In a sentence
With back-to-back Six Nations titles under their belts, a clean bill of health and a relatively straightforward group, Ireland should by rights be the northern hemisphere favourites. Unfortunately, their World Cup record doesn’t back it up: can they at least reach the semi finals?
The Fields of Athenry Irish rugby’s cross-border collaboration means that two anthems are always sung before home games in Dublin: the Republic of Ireland’s national anthem Amhrán na bhFiann and the specially commissioned Ireland’s Call. But for mid-game shivers, you can’t get much better than the folk ballad Athenry, as this clip from Ireland’s nearly moment against New Zealand in 2013 shows.
One to follow: Paul O’Connell
Considering he’s the old man of the Irish squad, captain Paul O’Connell is surprisingly au fait with the old Twinstagram. He may be dedicated on the pitch, but it’s nothing compared to his commitment to his kids’ tooth fairy requirements.
Moment of glory
A bittersweet memory: Gordon Hamilton looked to have guaranteed Ireland’s place in the semi finals in 1991 with a stunning try at Lansdowne Road – but it wasn’t to be. Michael Lynagh went back up the other end, and broke Irish hearts.
Pundit’s view: Denis Hickie
Reasons to be confident?
“Tactically Ireland have proved themselves very astute in unlocking more powerful teams. They are very well organised, intelligent individuals, and that plays into their tactical kicking game and defence as well.
“The warm-up match against Wales reminded everyone of the need for forward dominance at this World Cup. We’ve shown our ability to do it in recent years, but our front five need to get parity with France and Italy’s powerful packs.”
Reason to worry?
“Our World Cup record is there for everyone to see: we haven’t performed. We’ve never got past the quarter-finals, and that puts our game against group rivals France into context. Ireland may have back-to-back Six Nations titles, but France have been to three World Cup finals and have beaten Ireland in every World Cup match.
“That history can’t weigh too much on individual players, but they will be cognisant of the record. Ireland have proved themselves very capable in cracking the Six Nations formula; can they do the same in the World Cup?”
“Perhaps even more than other teams, Ireland depend on their scrum half and fly half combination Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton. That 9/10 axis needs to be working well behind the forward pack.”
“It’s all about winning the group for Ireland. If they can finish ahead of France, they avoid New Zealand and probably play Argentina in the quarter final. If it goes like that, then from the semi final anything is possible. Most people are thinking about the step stages in this tournament – but there are a lot of ifs and buts involved!”