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Woodward: Northern Hemisphere has 'never been in a better position' to end RWC drought

By Ben Smith
Jonathan Sexton of Ireland and Antoine Dupont of France during the Guinness Six Nations Rugby Championship match between Ireland and France at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. (Photo By Harry Murphy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Andy Farrell’s Ireland side captured a Grand Slam Six Nations title with a 29-16 win over England to cap off a significant nine-month period for Irish rugby.

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Ireland have won 10 Tests in a row since their loss to the All Blacks in the first Test at Eden Park last July.

Rebounding in Dunedin to level the series before claiming a historic 2-1 series win in Wellington, Ireland went on to defeat South Africa, Fiji and Australia in November before sweeping all of their Six Nations opponents, including defending champions France in this year’s tournament.

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France captured a Grand Slam themselves 12 months ago and had their own undefeated calendar year in 2022, rising to world’s best in the eyes of many. Having been pipped by Ireland in round two, France have flexed their own muscles against England and Wales to show how strong they still are.

The two European teams are now well and truly established as the top two teams in the world rankings, establishing a new world order ahead of this year’s World Cup.

On the threat of the Southern Hemisphere teams at this year’s event in France, former England coach Clive Woodward said that now is the time for the North to shed the dreaded tag that has accompanied them for the last 20 years.

“Oh they will be coming fast,” Woodward said of the Southern Hemisphere to ITV, “but if you look at the table it doesn’t lie.”

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“France and Ireland are the two top teams. I’d love England to win a World Cup obviously, but if it’s not England, I want France or Ireland to win.

“You want a Northern Hemisphere team to win. We’ve got to get over this tag from 20 years ago, and I think we’ve got the armoury.

“England are in a great position to win, they’ve got a great draw, their next game is Argentina, a big World Cup pool game.

“If they win that, they can go quite simply go to the semi-finals. They’ve got the team.

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“France and Ireland have got the teams to win the World Cup there is no doubt.”

Woodward said that wouldn’t sit well with the old powers, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, who have won eight World Cups between them.

“As we sit here, I promise you, in Pretoria, Auckland, they’re sharpening their studs. They won’t like to be hearing all this about Ireland, France and England,” he said.

“They’ll be ready for us in South Africa and Australia, Eddie Jones is down there.

“Southern Hemisphere will be sharpening their studs ready to go. It’s all on.

“But I think the Northern Hemisphere has never been in a better position to do something special this year.”

France has made the World Cup final on three occasions but Ireland’s struggles are well documented, failing to qualify past the quarter-final stage at every tournament they have competed in.

Former Irish great Brian O’Driscoll said that public expectations for the Six Nations champions are rising fast with desires of winning the event.

The legendary No 13 said that the rugby world at large is aware of how good Ireland is and he has received messages from all around the globe telling him so.

“Does it rachet up the pressure now all the more? Certainly in this country we think we can ¬†go on and achieve something,” O’Driscoll told ITV.

“Not just doing something we’ve never done before in getting to that semi-final but getting to a final, god forbid, can we say it out loud? Winning a World Cup.

“They are the number one team in the world. When you start getting text messages and notes from down in the Southern Hemisphere, in New Zealand and Australia, about how good this Irish team is.

“They’ve grabbed the attention of everyone in the world. It’s not just a Northern Hemisphere victory for them.

“They’ve really embraced this number one tag and they’re enjoying it. All these wins along the way will add to the confidence for all the circumstances that will arise over a seven week period at the World Cup.

“Hopefully it will hold them in good stead to deal with those situations.”

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