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Ireland on course for another World Cup flop claims former Leinster coach

By Ian Cameron
Johnny Sexton of Ireland looks dejected after the Rugby World Cup 2019 (Photo by Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images)

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Former Scotland head coach Matt Williams believes Ireland’s selection policy and a lack of real plan for the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France could lead to another flop at the flagship tournament.

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Ireland have a famously awful record at the World Cup. Despite rankings that would suggest otherwise, they have never progressed further than a quarter-final and have twice not made it out of the pool stages.

Now former Leinster coach Williams believes they are once again heading into the tournament with a lack of strategic planning and a selection policy that won’t prepare fringe players for what they’ll face in France.

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Using an analogy of a passenger airline flight in his Irish Times column, Williams painted a picture of a national team that are so fearful of losing games in the short term, that they’re not blooding talent beneath the first string.

William’s fictional pilot addresses a plane full of Irish fans over the PA system, giving the lack of game time at tighthead below Tadhg Furlong as an example.

“Finlay Bealham has done exceptionally well from the bench, but since 2016 his only starts as a tighthead have been against Canada, Japan and the USA. The next number three is Tim O’Toole, who has only two caps against Japan and the USA. Both of these tightheads desperately need game time against tier one teams or South Africa will eat them.

He, of course, addresses Ireland’s most pressing position quandary. How to replace Johnny Sexton, an area Andy Farrell has received criticism for in the past.

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“Poor Joey’s only other starts against tier one nations have been against Australia in 2017 and Argentina last November. Joey needs far more starts against big teams. As does Jack Carty if he is to be Joey’s backup. Remember New Zealand 2011? The Kiwis won the final with outhalf number three.”

It’s a similar issue at fullback according for Williams, with no backup for Hugo Keenan at 15. Ulster’s Michael Lowry is set to make his debut tomorrow, just 20 months before Ireland land in France.

“All three matches [Italy, England and Scotland] are so very winnable that nobody is thinking of giving game time to key backup players, because, heaven forbid, Ireland might lose a match. No-one is at all interested in preparing for the next World Cup.

“That is if you don’t include France, who have been planning for the 2023 World Cup for more than seven years. Fabien Galthié took his second and third choice team to Australia last summer to give them big match experience. New Zealand always plan ahead. Look at their depth chart at 3, 10 and 15. The Boks and the Wallabies are fixated on the World Cup cycle, as are Eddie Jones and England, but apart from them, no-one is really planning for France 2023 . . . are they?”

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Former Ireland coach Eddie O’Sullivan once opined that there was no room for experiment with Ireland, such is the huge pressure to perform each year in the Six Nations and in the November Tests.

Farrell finds himself in a tight spot. A sluggish start to his tenure has been addressed, with Ireland winning nine games on the trot before the Round 2 loss to France. Much praise has followed. Balancing the risk of losing to the Azzurri against preparing players for next year’s tournament is the equation.

So experimentation might not have been forefront in his mind, even when facing Six Nations strugglers Italy this weekend. Yet, according to Williams, it might be a luxury he simply has to afford himself in the next year and a half if he wants Ireland to succeed in 20 months time on French soil.

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