Brian O’Driscoll: ‘I absolutely think Ireland can win the World Cup’
Former captain says Joe Schmidt’s side will change strategy in Japan, but not drastically
Brian O’Driscoll unveils a new Guinness campaign, Believe, in support of the Irish rugby team as they head for Japan to compete in the World Cup. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Ireland will change from the way they played against Wales when the World Cup begins in two weeks, says former Irish centre Brian O’Driscoll. But not drastically. After Wales coach Warren Gatland condemned Ireland as predictable in the way they played ball off scrumhalf Conor Murray with big runners like Bundee Aki charged with gaining space and ground, O’Driscoll says Ireland will show a different strategy in Japan.
He added that if Joe Schmidt’s side can win the first two matches against Scotland and Japan, they will have the luxury of resting key players for the final pool games and have a chance of winning the competition outright.
“They are going to change a good bit up, but they are not going to reinvent the wheel,” said O’Driscoll at the Guinness Belief campaign launch.
“We saw better phase play options this game, but they got a lot more momentum from their ball carriers and their rugby was made a little bit more simple for them by winning collisions.
“I think we will see some different things but I don’t think we are going to see wholesale changes in pattern or style. I think you’ve got to try and bed a style in advance of going to a World Cup rather than coming out with a completely different plan.
“I absolutely think they can win it but they need a lot to go for them,” he added. “But on the basis of what I’ve watched in the last two years, they can win the World Cup.”
Despite a golden career and 133 Irish caps, the former Irish captain still holds regrets for not having got past the quarter-final stage of previous competitions in four attempts.
Having four goes at it and not getting to a World Cup semi-final is a bad outcome. And it is a disappointment
But the 2007 World Cup, when Ireland had a number of players rated at world level, was his biggest disappointment.
“If you’re going to pick out regrets, the 2007 one is going to be the big one,” he said. “Whatever about 2003, that was a freebie. Then the 2011 team was a good side. I definitely look back on that with a bit of sadness.
“Having four goes at it and not getting to a World Cup semi-final is a bad outcome. And it is a disappointment. But I suppose I don’t want to wallow in it too much. We need to get that monkey off our backs.”
He sees the health of key players as pivotal to Irish success and, with just Joey Carbery and Keith Earls sidelined but on the plane to Japan, Ireland has emerged from the summer series relatively unscathed.
In addition influencers on the team such as Johnny Sexton and Connor Murray must play well for Ireland to hold any chance of going beyond the knock-out stage, although he believes Garry Ringrose may have had a knock to his confidence.
Ringrose, at one stage a nailed-on starting outside centre, has played on the wing from the bench in recent matches with Aki and Henshaw outside performing strongly as a partnership against Wales last week. Ringrose, he assures, has more to show.
“The more I have mulled over it the more I thought if Garry was going to be playing against Scotland he would have been playing over the weekend,” said the former Irish captain.
“That said, would I be shocked if he was given a start on the wing? Maybe not. I thought he was very effective on the wing, yeah, he might have had a few misses [tackles]. I know it is not his natural position but he brings a wealth of experience.
“He is probably lacking a bit of confidence himself. Things haven’t quite gone his way thus far. Sometimes when it is not going for you, you have to go and get it for yourself, and I just felt he had done that enough.
“But on the basis of not playing Saturday and the boys going well, I would imagine that it mightn’t be looking brilliant for the Scotland game, but he is a shoo-in for the 23 now that he is playing on the wing.”
Owen Farrell misses a huge amount of tackles but are you thinking of not picking Owen Farrell?
A noticeable aspect of the Ringrose game was that he has missed tackles. But O’Driscoll questions whether that is a fair criticism, arguing the context is more important than the bald stats of a match.
He is not buying that missing tackles on the wing is always a negative mark against a player and questions what the missed tackles have led to. How many scores, how many line-breaks resulted, he asked, explaining that those are the statistics that demand properly scrutiny.
“Sometimes as a winger, the misses, if you take them in isolation, they can look worse than they are,” says O’Driscoll. “Owen Farrell misses a huge amount of tackles but are you thinking of not picking Owen Farrell? But what does he do with those shots? It might be a big shot and he doesn’t finish the tackle but then someone comes in and mops up. But he is putting huge pressure on that person that he has ‘missed’.
“I think particularly from the wing there is a lot of scope for closing the gate and shoving the person who is an attacking threat in off the wing. I think it is a bit simplistic to say that, statistically, a player has missed ‘x’ amount of tackles. There is a story behind all of that.”