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Sunday 23 July 2017

Ball now back in Ireland's court

South Africa could stand in the way

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt (left) with Jamie Joseph, Head Coach of Japan, and Scott Johnson, Performance Director of Scotland, after the Rugby World Cup 2019 draw in Kyoto. Photo: Dave Rogers/Sportsfile
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt (left) with Jamie Joseph, Head Coach of Japan, and Scott Johnson, Performance Director of Scotland, after the Rugby World Cup 2019 draw in Kyoto. Photo: Dave Rogers/Sportsfile

In these days of political correctness where one word out of place can mean a place lost in the team, it is often best to look to outside opinion.

"Whatever the opposite of a love affair is, this is Ireland in the World Cup," said former England centre Will Greenwood, on reviewing their 'Group of Life' draw against Scotland, Japan and two countries to be confirmed.

At present, it looks like Romania and Tonga are most likely to emerge as qualifiers from Europe 1 and a play-off, respectively.

"They can't get past a World Cup quarter-final.

"They have had such wonderful teams. You think about the calibre of players they've had over the generations.

"And, yet, something gets into their mindset and blocks them.

"They will understand this is a really good chance to top a Pool which gives them a second-placed side in the quarter-finals.

"Ireland, 'if not now, then when?'"

It could just be that their major obstacle will be the quarter-final options of either New Zealand or South Africa.

It will be coach Joe Schmidt's responsibility to take Ireland where they have never been before.

"I think it's incredibly exciting to draw the host nation," he said.

"I think the crowd, the enthusiasm and the interest in that game is going to be huge."

There is the excitement at playing in front of the home support and there is the cold-headed planning that must go into taking all that energy and turning it against 'The Brave Blossoms.'

"I think the Japanese national team have really progressed in a short term and even going back probably two or three years."

The Irish public and players will get a better handle on what is ahead of them in the two test matches in Japan next month.

"I think June will be complicated for us," said Schmidt.

"This draw will spark a real interest because people will want an entree of what will be a main meal in two-and-a-bit years' time.

"It's very hard to assess where teams are going to be (in 2019).

"We've seen the upward curve that Japan have taken in recent times.

"They got very close to beating Wales (33-30) in the Millennium Stadium last autumn and, obviously, their heroics in the last World Cup were pretty spectacular.

"I've got a lot of respect for Jamie Joseph - he's a scary man! " reacted Schmidt.

"I think he'll bring a real energy to the group. I know some of his coaching staff too.

"Together, they will be very, very effective in progressing the team further."

Japan coach Joseph must have been about as enthused as Schmidt, considering Ireland's appalling record in the World Cup and Scotland's fallibility.

"Any pool that we were going to get was going to be a big challenge. Now there is some certainty around it.

"We are fortunate in that we play Ireland in June," said Joseph.

"It will give us some understanding about that team because Japan haven't beaten Ireland or Scotland to date.

"We know what the challenge is going to be big. There is a long time to go. It is still a couple of years away."

For all the intrigue about dealing with Japan, Scotland coach Gregor Townsend will be able to dip into his detailed knowledge of the boys in green.

"Ireland have been one of the most competitive and most improved sides over the past few years," said the affable Scot.

"A lot of that is to do with their quality of players and the influence of head coach Joe Schmidt.

"They have shown real consistency over the past two or three years. They are one of the best teams in the world.

"On the other hand, we know Ireland pretty well and have a couple more opportunities to play them before the World Cup.

"While we also know a lot about their players through the Guinness Pro12."

2019 RUGBY WORLD CUP DRAW

POOL A

Ireland, Scotland, Japan, Europe 1,

Play-Off Winner.

POOL B

New Zealand, South Africa, Italy, Africa 1, Repechage Winner.

POOL C

England, France, Argentina, Americas 1, Oceania 2

POOL D

Australia, Wales, Georgia, Oceania 1, Americas 2.

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