Ireland in danger of World Cup dogfight but O'Shea warns they must only focus on beating the Scots
Ireland must ignore any threat of slipping into a World Cup 2019 pool of death ahead of Saturday's RBS 6 Nations clash with Scotland, according to Conor O'Shea.
The pool draw for Japan 2019 could yet take place as early as December this year, leaving Test teams already eyeing remaining inside the top eight of World Rugby's rankings.
Any Test nation ranked outside the top eight at the time of the draw will miss out on first and second seedings, risking falling into a pool as daunting as the line-up that paired hosts England with Australia, Wales and Fiji in 2015.
Ireland scaled second spot in the global standings in August but now sit seventh ahead of Saturday's Aviva Stadium battle with Scotland - with three Tests against South Africa and two against New Zealand still ahead this year.
"The rankings, the World Cup draws, none of that will come into play for Ireland this weekend," former Ireland full-back O'Shea said.
"Ireland can't afford to think about anything other than trying to win this game. There just isn't time to dwell on anything else.
"It's no point them thinking of where they will be in 2019, that doesn't drive team selection or will to win.
"They will just be looking to get out there and win against Scotland."
Governing body World Rugby has been at pains to push the pool draw for World Cup 2019 as late as possible, in light of England and Wales' testing line-up in the autumn.
England were the big guns to fall foul of the most difficult pool in World Cup history, becoming the first host nation to fail to reach the quarter-finals.
The 2019 pool draw could still take place this December however, which would leave Ireland battling for that all-important top-eight ranking.
Joe Schmidt's side fought hard for a creditable draw with Wales in their opening Six Nations match, only to slip to defeats in France and England.
Last weekend's 58-15 thumping of Italy ended a sequence of four matches without victory, but Ireland's forthcoming fixture list offers a host of severe challenges.
Ireland will hope to have a raft of frontline stars back from injury for the formidable challenge of June's three-Test June tour to South Africa.
Head coach Schmidt's men then face world champions New Zealand twice in November, while also taking on Australia and Canada.
"I think the nearer it is to the competition the more sense it makes, because then it's more reflective," said Harlequins boss O'Shea of the World Cup pool draws.
"Wales, England and Australia was a pretty incredible pool, and the rest is history."
Ireland will hope to see off a resurgent Scotland to claim a mid-table finish from a turbulent Six Nations campaign.
"Ireland have been through a really difficult transition, not just with the leaders they've lost through retirement, but also the guys that are missing through injury," said O'Shea.
"Those guys are young men though, and those players have a massive amount left in them when they come back.
"Scotland will be really buoyed by their first win over France in 10 years, they will be really confident now.
"Ireland's success has driven people's expectation so high that you're almost not allowed a year like this - but it happens."
"Even with a raft of injuries they've blooded some exciting talents who have shown what they can do."