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Saturday 3 December 2016

O'Connor can see Ireland lifting the Webb Ellis Trophy for the first time

Matt O'Connor
Matt O'Connor

Former Leinster coach Matt O'Connor knows Irish rugby inside-out and that is what gives him the confidence to make a bold statement.

"I think Ireland can win the World Cup," he said.

"Off the back of two Six Nations titles and an unbelievably talented generation of players.

"I think this is the golden opportunity for Ireland to join the honours roll."

First and foremost, they will have to escape out of their Pool in which the rendezvous with France on October 11 has all the hallmarks of a make-or-break contest of will and skill.

"They've got a very winnable group," he believes.

The most likely opposition, if they can cope with Canada, Romania, Italy and France, will be Argentina, the runners-up in Pool C.

Otherwise, they will be staring at an early exit at the hands of reigning champions and raging favourites New Zealand.

"There is a huge carrot there for them to progress further than they ever have in the tournament."

The gain of Ireland came at the expense of Leinster this season in that the combined contribution of the bulk supply to the national team and a horrendous injury list complicated matters beyond comprehension.

O'Connor flew out of Dublin for Australia yesterday safe in the knowledge that he has added to Ireland's options going to the Rugby World Cup.

"I would like to think I have played a part in the development of the Leinster players that have made the extended World Cup training squad," he said.

"I am not talking about the senior internationals. There are one or two who developed in the last two years and who have the potential to be even better.

TWIST

"I am talking about the likes of Jack McGrath, Martin Moore, Tadhg Furlong, Jack Conan and Noel Reid."

It is a strange twist of the system that as Leinster strengthen Ireland they weaken themselves.

The Ireland training squad of 45 contained no less than 22 of O'Connor's former players.

Of course, Sexton, the man that could have made so much difference to his Leinster tenure, is the 23rd.

Above and beyond that, he can take great satisfaction from the part he played in the re-emergence of Luke Fitzgerald as an international force.

O'Connor is almost back in Australia by now and he will return with a reputation enhanced from an impressive body of work.

"We've had a fantastic seven years in Europe, two of them in Dublin.

"We've won four or five trophies and had a really good taste of The Premiership, the PRO12 and Europe.

"There are no regrets over what we've done. We will have time to see how the World Cup transpires and how Ireland do. I know they can break new ground."

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