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'I don't understand why people are not picking Ireland': Cohesion expert on RWC favourites

By Ned Lester
(Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

For a team that has beaten every major rival and claimed the World No 1 ranking over the past 14 months, Ireland are flying under the radar as far as expectations are concerned for the Rugby World Cup.


While unbeaten since game one of the New Zealand tour last July, Andy Farrell’s team have been given just a 46% chance of topping their pool in the World Cup by fans using the RugbyPass Road to the Final predictor.

It is indeed an incredibly competitive pool the Irish find themselves in, with fellow top-five ranked teams South Africa and Scotland along with Tonga and Romania to play. Even recently retired Scotland fullback, Stuart Hogg picked his homeland to miss the quarter-finals with the Springboks topping the pool.

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However, former Wallaby Ben Darwin begs to differ. The prop is the General Manager of Gain Line Analytics, a company that has developed a methodology for success based on cohesion factors and consults teams across the globe on selections.

“We believe there’s a misunderstanding about how teams work,” Darwin explained on the Aotearoa Rugby Pod. “That the driver of success is not actually the individual skill of a team, but more around the collective understanding.

“Whether that be interpersonal understanding, system understanding, role understanding.”

Darwin pointed to international teams being successful with combinations that have thrived at club level as an example of interpersonal understanding, and changing coaches who want to implement unfamiliar structures as an example of poor system understanding.

“What we’re saying is, the individual skill factor might make two or three per cent difference, we find cohesion can make up to 80 per cent differential.”



The methodology has proven successful in reflecting the results of previous World Cups, with no team ever lifting the Webb Ellis Cup without being top three in the cohesion metrics.

So, what is Darwin’s prediction for this World Cup?

“I don’t understand why people are not picking Ireland to win the World Cup.

“They’re the best team in the world. They’ve been the most accurate, they’ve been the most consistent.

“I think people are going for what’s happened before with them, and Ireland’s been growing now, basically in their performance for the past 25 years.


“But, if you look at it as they are a reasonably cohesive team, it means between the World Cups they’re at their peak and it looks like they sort of fall away. But it was also to do with other countries peaking.

“I just think, the way they’re built at the moment if things go right for them and right for everyone else, they’ll win it. I think things have to go badly wrong for them and significantly right for other people for them to fall short.

“I think it will be Ireland over New Zealand in the final.”

Ireland begin their World Cup campaign against Romania this weekend, boosted by the return of captain Johnny Sexton.

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Sexton and his men will face South Africa and Scotland in the final weeks of pool play in two Tests that could conceivably be a final preview.

While the return of their influential captain is critical to Ireland’s World Cup ambitions, Darwin looked elsewhere when naming who will be the best player of the tournament.

“I’m going to give you two answers, I think Aaron Smith will be voted as the best player in the world but I think the best player in the tournament is Tadgh Furlong.

“We never get voted Player of the Match for anything, tight-heads never get recognised but Furlong’s easily the best player in the world right now.”


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ruckaa 310 days ago

sorry skill is way more important how many tries are butchered because of stupid miracle passes or knock ons when the pass is good when the level goes up pressure is up its skill that gives you time to catch that up and under no problem even the great aarron smith passed the ball to no one the other day when sometimes he can thread it thru a forest of players the skill to beat the faster guy by in and away just to get the outside edge these are just the minimum even tighties can do it the skill to run thru tacklers because of your timing and angle these are what make some great individual moments and players you must have exceptional skill first na hes wrong the all blacks have many times come to the world cup hot favs well no1 in the world and have had their ass handed to them by france australia and they had beaten them by 50 points previously world cup man your shit dont mean shit i watched the pod you grossly underestimate skill

CO 310 days ago

The Irish if they had to win a one off game last year had the potential to defeat anyone. The Allblacks were just resurfacing from their lockdowns and had their worst ever coach without any idea or support. But this is 2023 and Foster has two incredibly talented 'assistant' coaches and the following problems will stall the very brilliant Irish.

  1. Sexton is 4 years older than 2019, he was too old then and failed to fire.\n\n
  2. Ireland has poor depth and is highly exposed to an injury. This is shown by the halfback, Aki, Lowe, etc, all imports.\n\n
  3. They're over relying on their performance in NZ to gauge their chances.
Finally and most crucially the Irish lack the ability to withstand the power game, the physicality the other teams will bring at RWC.

Argentina tore them apart in 2015, NZ did likewise in 2019. We don't know who will do it this year but it will happen. Ireland will have a couple of key forwards injured or injured during the quarter final game and that will be that.

MattJH 311 days ago

Highly recommend everyone listens to the interview on Aotearoa Rugby Pod.

Snash 311 days ago

yes accurate and consistent - lets see if they can do it for 7 weeks -under RWC pressure

Pecos 311 days ago

Ireland have never gone past the quarters & everyone knows pre tournament ranking & favouritism based on results outside the white hot cauldron of the RWC knockout phase, is irrelevant.

Brian 311 days ago

Huh, don’t know what all that gobbledegook was about. All I know is IRE is the team to beat. Antoine DuPont is the best player at this tournament, period. The winner of this tournament is either IRE, FRE or SA. Regardless if it’s SA or IRE that the All Blacks meet in the QF it’ll be the end of the road for them. Based on all the teams performances this past year, period. There - was that so hard to say in English?

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sean 16 minutes ago
The bite don't match the bark

Yeah, he has a few good points… I disagree that our 7s haven't done anything, we won Bronze in 2016, and we were virtually unplayable to the backend of the “teens” winning the series. 7s is far more competitive globally than Union, so it's fair to say we haven't dominated, but we are almost always contenders. But I do agree that our national side doesn't perform nearly as well as it should between World Cups, and I do agree that our supporters can be too passionate and the opitimity of what Rugby stands against. I have said so many times. And I also believe some context needs to be taken into account with Saturday's win for Ireland. They're a really good team! Settled coaching staff, and bar a few legends retiring, they've had a full season and plenty of time together. We have some youngsters being groomed for the future, have played only 3 games now under a new coaching team with new philosophies and game plans. I'm excited by what the future of this team holds, as much as I am disappointed by the result. But unlike this article suggests, I am never going to take away from what Ireland has achieved, is achieving, and where they're heading. As a Rugby fan, I love the tight games, like the last two weekends. As a Bok Super Fan, I agree we don't perform as well as we should. And as an aside, you come play a game at 7am on our fields, bud. -2°c and frost on the field that is as hard as concrete…. Then we’ll see just how tough you are. Well done Ireland! They played well, and gave our boys a lot to think about. That's what you want from the top two teams in the world. Rugby won. The fans of this greatbsport won. A'n bullshit like this article is why Rugby is losing its identity. I don't like soccer. This article perpetuates the soccer influences the game of Rugby is starting to see. It's why Wayne Barnes retired, feared for his family, and he isn't the only ref to say so. I have called out many Bok fans for being an embarrassment to the game, and I will continue to do so., this article is close to the same bullshit. You should be better.

32 Go to comments
Michael 1 hours ago
All Blacks vs England takeaways: Richie Who? Time for Cortez

Cant deny Christie is a good defender, box kicks well at times, BUT he’s a second too slow passing from the ground. Roigard, Ratima and Hotham will be our 2027 halfbacks I believe DMAC has played reasonably well in both games, so deserves to keep his place - his two breaks at Eden Park should have resulted in tries. Reece was really to blame for the Taylor failure - he stayed too wide, if he had come in a couple of meters the pass from Taylor would have worked. The Perofeta failure was extraordinary, he is normally such a good distributor, failure to draw in Steward was remarkable, failure to look inside was a shocker. Cory Flynn as lineout coach… umm something a miss here. Not sure who is calling the lineouts, but clearly we miss Whitelock’s leadership. Having a disfunctional line out really underminded the AB attack. But let’s remind ourselves Itoje is a master, and their tactics of going for the arms of the jumper on landing and pulling over was brilliant causing Paddy and Scooter to both fumble the balls. I am a Blues supporter so I like Talea, but if you play him on the wrong wing look out. While he’s not the fastest wing, he’s elusive and very industrious always looking for work. However, he’s not the tallest player, and everyone knows his weakness (a) being turned in defence - he’s slow to turn and react and (b) never jumps for high balls is normally out jumped. Personally, I find Recce and Talea too alike - Razor needs to couple them with another complementary partner Clark and Narawa respectively. However, for me the real troubling challenge is our mid-field. I am sorry Barrett & Ioane are a poor combo - either Barrett & Proctor or ALB & Ioane - but having two mid-fielders who are poor distributors is nuts. Jordie had a forgettable game in truth he missed so many tackles, which to be fair is unlike him. But sadly both Barrett and Ioane chose to bash first and rarely distribute cleanly.

22 Go to comments
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