Brian O'Driscoll: 'Irish should be bullish as they aim for number one'

Depending on results, chiefly Ireland downing the long-standing number one side the All Blacks during an unbeaten November, and hoping that England do the same tomorrow, Joe Schmidt’s side could be top of the world at the end of the month.

And, although O’Driscoll knows that breaching the ceiling of the World Cup semi-finals remains the team’s primary aim, he reckons the current team deserve to publicise their ambitions.

“Previous Ireland teams have gone to third and fourth best team in the world, dipped their toe in and then came back out to fifth and sixth again,” says O’Driscoll. “But to consistently stay at second in the world rankings for quite a while now, beating good sides, winning a series down in Australia for the first time since 1979, that automatically builds confidence.

“I see they are not trying to shy away from what they are trying to achieve next year. Irish mentality in the past has been about downplaying our chances, shying away, but you cannot pull the wool over the public’s eyes and say, ‘Ah, you know’.

“You can’t have huge success in one quarter and then talk your chances down in another. I think they are trying to live what they have experienced.

“They have a great record in the Aviva as well, they are very confident at home, so there is no reason why they should not be a little bit bullish.

“They are wary of good opposition but I think they are confident they can match any chat that does come out.

“And they will respect Argentina and will obviously respect New Zealand but this is all with one eye on the World Cup and wanting to be world champions, not to get to a semi-final or a final, but actually win it.”

With Argentina once more hovering into view, and offering reminders of previous World Cup slip-ups by Ireland, O’Driscoll is confident Ireland can balance historically-ingrained humility with their recently-acquired confidence.

“It is a fine line, isn’t it? And perception will dictate that some people think the line will be crossed. When you are asked certain questions I think it is the manner with which you voice your answers.

“Respect is a big component of humility and making sure that all opposition get that respect they deserve irrespective of their credentials in world rugby.

“But you have got to be confident too. You see in every walk of life what confidence does to people, it puts a pep in their step. And you can clearly see it in this side that they are brimming with confidence because of how well they are coached because of the focus in their game-plan which has brought them to this level. You have to have lofty ambitions. To be number one, you have to consistently beat all sides for three or four years 95 per cent of the time. We have only beaten New Zealand once. That is the reality.

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Rugby stars Jamie Heaslip and Rob Kearney. Photo: Sportsfile

“So if you want to have those lofty ambitions, you have got to beat the All Blacks again this month. It is a very different mentality to when I was 20 but they don’t know any different.

“They are coming in thinking why can’t we be the best team in the world? It is such an un-Irish thing. We are not used to it. But this is new ground we are breaking.

“When I was 20, I came into a team that was trying to piece together back-to-back wins on occasion or trying not to finish last in the Six Nations. So we have come a long way.”

However, he warns against the threat posed by Argentina today. “The country thinks that we will do a job on a country that have been perennial banana skins for us in World Cups in 1999 and 2007.

“We scraped by them in 2003, were beaten in a quarter-final by them in 2015. So we’ve had a lot of painful days against them, let’s not take our eye off that.”

And O’Driscoll believes it is the perfect litmus test for Ireland given their 2015 heartache. “You look at the Rugby Championship and how they’ve conversely been very good in attack, but very poor in defence.

“What I really like about the fixture is how will they stretch us in the wide channels? That’s been our Achilles heel.

“Any time that we’ve struggled over the past two years, we’ve gotten narrow. We got narrow at the weekend against a lesser team. This is a better-quality team, definitely a considerably better back three that can beat players one-on-one.

“I’ve watched a few of them come through the Sevens series as well. They’re all phenomenal specimens and athletes and they can play, and play with a real freedom. Luckily for them, the easier thing to fix is defence. It’s harder to just get your attack shape going, as England have seen over the last year. To develop that and hone that is not as easy as sorting out your defence.

“With 11 months to go to the World Cup, if they can shore up that defence and not give away penalties, they will be a tough team to beat because there’s tries in them. It’s a great test for us in advance of the All Blacks game because our perceived frailties will be tested.” Brian O’Driscoll was speaking as a part of Guinness’ #AnswerIrelandsCall Campaign. Guinness is the official title sponsor of the Guinness series and a proud supporter of Irish Rugby

Irish Independent