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Dublin: 12 °C Thursday 17 October, 2019
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2019 World Cup a thrilling prospect for Schmidt's superb Ireland

Ireland had a stunning season in which they beat everyone in the World Rugby Top 10 aside from the All Blacks.

IRELAND’S 2016 WIN in Chicago and the utterly brutal victory for the All Blacks a fortnight later underlined to us that it is major shame the two nations don’t get to play each other every season.

Their most recent meeting before those games, back in 2013, was unforgettable too, even if some Ireland fans would rather not dip into the memory bank and bring up the pain Ryan Crotty’s late, late try caused.

Ireland players and staff celebrate in the dressing room after the game Ireland are in a great place. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Playing the All Blacks is one of the most exciting things in rugby, the opportunity to test oneself against the very best in the game.

Therefore, November 2018 can’t come quickly enough for Joe Schmidt’s Ireland, who welcome New Zealand to the Aviva Stadium on 17 November for what should be another epic.

But it is a real pity that this 2017/18 season hasn’t provided Schmidt’s team with an opportunity to take on the Kiwis.

Ireland have played all of the other eight teams in the World Rugby’s current top 10 rankings and won – Wales, England, Australia, South Africa, Scotland, France, Fiji and Argentina all beaten.

The shot at the All Blacks – who once again underlined their jaw-droppingly clinical nature in series victory over France this month – will have to wait.

Ireland’s own series success in Australia tells us that Schmidt’s side are likely to have a fine shot at a second-ever win over the Kiwis in November, while it also underlines that they will probably go into next year’s World Cup in their strongest position ever, although injuries can change so much.

Schmidt could justifiably feel that had he named his strongest available team for all three Tests, particularly Johnny Sexton at out-half, Ireland may well have claimed a clean sweep of the three Tests Down Under.

That said, the Wallabies showed their class and ran Ireland incredibly close, particularly in the final quarter of the third Test, when Michael Cheika’s men really should have won but did their best to butcher a handful of clear opportunities amid Ireland’s huge final effort.

Ireland players celebrate with the Lansdowne Cup after the game Ireland celebrate in Sydney. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Cheika will feel that his Wallabies team can only improve as players such as Lukhan Tui and the frankly thrilling prospect that is Taniela Tupou get up to speed. Schmidt knows better than anyone that the Australians will contenders at the World Cup.

Schmidt will be conscious too of South Africa’s resurgence under Rassie Erasmus, who has made swift and decisive change having returned home from Munster. The Springboks are potential quarter-final opponents for Ireland at the World Cup.

Test rugby comebacks for Duane Vermeulen, Faf de Klerk, Willie le Roux and Handré Pollard were vital in the Boks’ series success against England, but there are new stars in S’busiso Nkosi, Aphiwe Dyantyi and others too.

England’s travails under Eddie Jones have been well-documented and much-enjoyed, it seems, but Schmidt has stressed his belief that they will rebound convincingly, while also pointing out that the English serve as a warning of how quickly a team’s fortunes can change.

Warren Gatland’s Wales have gone under the radar this month but their victory against an inexperienced South Africa and back-to-back wins over Argentina allowed them to build depth ahead of the World Cup.

Gatland has a habit of getting his teams into a good place mentally and physically for the big occasions and their development as an attacking force will also make them a danger next year.

France, despite their three defeats in New Zealand, seem to be improving under Jacques Brunel and if he can match their thrilling offloading ability with more consistent discipline and defensive application, les Bleus will be exciting and effective.

Looking at Ireland’s World Cup pool for next year, Scotland had big wins over Canada and Argentina this month, although their defeat to the improving US in Houston was a blip, even if Gregor Townsend picked a highly inexperienced team that day.

South Africa v England International Test Rugby The Springboks looked revived under Rassie Erasmus. Source: Zuma Press/PA Images

Japan convincingly beat Georgia last weekend after drawing 1-1 with Conor O’Shea’s Italy in a shortened series, and their growth under the highly-rated Jamie Joseph and Tony Brown is likely to continue, with John Plumtree making a difference as defence coach.

Never one to be complacent, we can be sure that Schmidt will take time to study Russia’s heavy defeat to the US and their win over Canada in Ontario this month too.

Samoa and Germany get their two-legged play-off for the final spot in Pool A underway this weekend, with the Samoans having been told “if you don’t win this game then you all have to resign from the team” by their prime minister, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, who is also president of the country’s rugby union. Schmidt will be watching.

In truth, we are getting a little ahead of ourselves in attempting to predict Ireland’s World Cup performance next year and Schmidt will be hoping the hype doesn’t get out of hand before Japan.

There is plenty of water to pass under the bridge before that and the Ireland boss will be pointing out to his players when they next convene in August that there is much progress still to be made.

He wants his team to be more clinical once they have worked their way in behind opposition defences, while he is likely to be pushing for improvement in the scrum after the Wallabies got the upper hand there at key times in the series. There are also countless fine details he will have picked out in the three Tests in Australia.

Schmidt still has work to do on ensuring that any potential losses of Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton don’t utterly derail his team, although the provinces will naturally have a major part to play in that too.

There is, however, so much to be positive about with Ireland and as Schmidt enjoys his summer break, there must already be excitement about what comes next.

With a Grand Slam, November clean sweep, and series success in Australia, the 2017/18 season wasn’t bad. Bring on November.

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Murray Kinsella

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