We have time to practise - Drico
Skipper sees funny side as Irish land familiar foes in 2015 RWC
IRELAND escaped the iron grip of the Group of Death for the 2015 Rugby World Cup by earning a shot at France, Italy and the still-to-be-decided Americas 1 and Europe 2.
There is a real Six Nations flavour to their task three years hence. 2011 World Cup finalists France looked consistently Europe's outstanding candidate through November and Italy came within a whisker of taking out Australia.
"Well, we'll have plenty of practice in the upcoming Six Nations Championships," said Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll, in a humorous response to being made bedfellows with their European rivals.
"It looks like an okay draw, could have been better, could have been worse. At the same time, I've seen Italy beat teams and France are very good at World Cups. It's far from a 'fait accompli' that you're in the knockout stages - that's for sure.
"We've played against the Romanias and the Georgias of the world. We've got a summer tour to America and Canada coming up. We're going to know our opposition, for sure."
As usual, O'Driscoll was not about to adopt the collar of the underdog whether he actually makes it that far or not: "We're definitely capable of beating all teams on our day. It's just a matter of making sure you're consistent for all four games (in the pool stages).
He was also keen to rule himself out of playing in the tournament: "It's weird. Coming in, I was very relaxed. I don't for a second anticipate that I'll have any involvement.
"I think it is probably 18 months too far for me. I haven't thought about what I'm doing next year, let alone in three years' time. I think it's fair to say I'm not going to be around for that one," he said.
The history between Ireland and France in the World Cup does not bode well for the men in green. They have met three times for three losses.
On each occasion, France have easily emerged victorious for an aggregate gain of 104 points against 36 by Ireland, twice in the quarter-finals in 1995 and 2003.
Surprisingly, the Irish and the Italians have crossed swords just once, last year, when Keith Earls (2) and Brian O'Driscoll blasted home tries to ensure a quarter-final showdown against Wales.
Next year, North American rivals USA, ranked 16, and Canada, ranked 14, will play each other on a home and away basis with the aggregate winner qualifying for Ireland's Pool as Americas 1.
The Runners-Up from Division 1A of the European qualifier will go straight into Ireland's Pool as the fifth ranked country.
According to the current World Rankings, this could be anyone from Georgia (17), Spain (18), Romania (19), Russia (20) or Portugal (21).
The 'Group of Death' throws up Australia, England and Wales in Pool A and O'Driscoll was quick to point out the difficulty of that tangle.
"You definitely realise there was the potential for some very tricky encounters. You look at that Pool A with Australia, Wales and England - to have avoided Wales is probably a big thing."
The All Blacks will go into the World Cup as raging favourites, despite their shock defeat to England on Saturday.
The indicators were right there in the announcement of their clean sweep of major awards from the International Rugby Board Team of the Year, Coach of the Year in Steven Hansen and Player of the Year in Dan Carter.