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James Crombie/INPHO Ireland facing off against the haka before their agonising 2013 defeat to the All Blacks in Dublin.
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Here's why Isa Nacewa expects to see Ireland and the All Blacks in the World Cup final
Ireland look like ‘a champion team’, the Leinster legend says.

IN SPITE OF their injury worries, Ireland can go all the way to the World Cup final.

That’s according to Leinster’s Isa Nacewa, who’s standing by his recent prediction that the showpiece fixture on 31 October will involve Joe Schmidt’s side and his native New Zealand.

If Ireland are to make it as far as the decider, they’ll need to do so without regular starters Paul O’Connell, Peter O’Mahony and Jared Payne, who have all been ruled out for the remainder of the tournament due to injuries.

Out-half Johnny Sexton, who — like Nacewa — returns to Leinster this season after a two-year absence, is also an injury doubt for Sunday’s quarter-final against Argentina.

Ireland secured their place in the last-eight by topping Pool D, and while Nacewa expects an Irish victory, he says the Pumas will provide them with their biggest challenge of the year so far.

“The biggest difference is that it’s knockout rugby,” Nacewa said. “There’s a whole different feeling going into the game because it’s not about playing a brand of rugby, it’s about getting the win at the end of it. It’s a different mentality.

“The hard thing about this week for the Irish team is how well Argentina are playing. They’re a physical, tough side. Everyone knows that. Their set-piece is always solid and they’ve got so much structure in their game so I reckon it’s going to be the hardest game Ireland will have played in the last 12 months.”

inpho_00972902 ©INPHO / James Crombie Argentina's Facundo Isa and Nicolas Sanchez celebrate after their win against Georgia. ©INPHO / James Crombie / James Crombie

Watching how the strength-in-depth of Ireland’s squad came to the fore in last weekend’s impressive defeat of France has only served to add to Nacewa’s confidence in Ireland’s chances of success over the coming weeks.

He said: “Look, I think they’re absolutely exceptional. Against the French and just the passion and belief that you can sort of see in the way they played, and probably more importantly, the way they played for one another, it just shows you all the signs of a real champion team.

“As the story shows, even with the guys falling over, the other guys that have come in and stepped off the bench were just absolutely seamless and even took the team up a level. That to me is a sign of, as I said, a champion team and a team that really knows where they want to be, and where they want to get to.”

As for New Zealand, Nacewa accepts that the defending champions have yet to hit fifth gear but he believes that will change on Saturday when they play France — a team who have caused the All Blacks plenty of World Cup heartache over the years.

“I think this All Black team is very different to what it was four years ago,” Nacewa explained. “The opposition that they’ve come up against have stood up twice as hard as if they’re playing anyone else, so I think they’re battle-hardened. And they’ve played two different gameplans in the round-robin matches. But I’d say that come this weekend, the All Blacks will go up a gear and this is where everything starts for them.”

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Nacewa added: “Look, the French didn’t play very good rugby in 2011 yet they could have won the final. They made it there pretty convincingly. History speaks for itself and there’s always a few hairs on the necks of Kiwis when they come up against the French because it felt that way going into two World Cups where they’ve tripped us over.

“It’s always a nervous wait but I think this All Black team, in particular, is mentally tougher than the years gone by and they’ll really deliver this weekend.”

France and the winners of Wales versus South Africa stand in their way, but New Zealand will be favoured to reach the final. For Ireland, however, a semi-final against Australia — the tournament’s most impressive team so far — is likely to be the reward for a win against Argentina on Sunday.

Nacewa is full of praise for the Wallabies and how they’ve performed under Michael Cheika, his former coach at Leinster. However, the versatile former Auckland Blues back fancies Ireland’s chances of victory.

Nacewa: “My biggest bogey out there would be Aussie. They’re just an amazing side under Cheiks, and they have played two very different gameplans and can grind out a win. So that’s a scary speedbump along the way as to how good they’re going.

“But I think Ireland’s team effort and the strength and passion they show is enough to get them through. And I think this All Black team will just step it up a gear come this weekend, so I’m going to hold that prediction and go Ireland-All Blacks.”

Isa Nacewa is pictured above with former Leinster team-mate Kevin McLaughlin at the ‘Boast’ Rugby World Cup preview event. Boast, the world’s leading audio social media app, hosted the first of its kind rugby preview event where fans tuned in and engaged directly with a panel of rugby experts. The app is available for free download on iOS or Android and allows users to connect with like-minded individuals, as well as radio stations, from around the world on the hottest topics ranging from sport to politics and ‘Boast’ their opinions using their real voice.

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