Sports Digest: Hopes are low for Ireland’s team in Rugby World Cup
World Cup debutant Jamie Heaslip has cast aside the doom and gloom that accompanied Ireland on their trek to New Zealand and insisted, “We’re not here to be second best.”
Declan Kidney’s side open their 2011 Rugby World Cup account against the U.S. in New Plymouth on Sunday with few expecting them to shake the trees.
A disastrous warm-up campaign has done little to instill confidence after four straight defeats to Scotland in Edinburgh, France in Bordeaux and Dublin and England at the Aviva in Dublin.
But Leinster giant Heaslip, ignored for the last World Cup disaster in France four years ago, refuses to buy into the negative equity theory as Ireland prepare to kick off their campaign against former coach Eddie O’Sullivan’s U.S. crew.
“We have not come here to be second best,” insisted Heaslip. “We are a fairly ambitious group of players and the squad that has come here, has come here to win.
“Saying you are going to win is a fairly ambiguous statement and you do need to put a little clarity on that.
“To win you have got to get to the final. To get to the final you have got to get to the semifinal.
“To get to the semis, you have got to come out of the quarters and to come out of the quarters you have got to come through your pool.
“It all boils down to game on against the U.S. next weekend and following on from there. Everything to do with this World Cup starts with the American match.”
History doesn’t bode well for Ireland ahead of a tough pool that features Australia, Italy and Russia as well as a U.S. side led by an Irish coach with a point of his own to prove.
The last World Cup was a nightmare from start to finish for O’Sullivan’s so called Golden Generation who fell flat on their face in France in 2007.
Likewise, Ireland’s erratic form in the warm-up games has done little for national morale at a time when the country needs a major sporting boost.
“We have moved on from 2007 and it is important to accept that,” insisted Heaslip ahead of Sunday’s early morning alarm call for rugby fans.
“If you are a player who dwells on a bad game then you are not going to last very long in this sport to be honest with you.
“When Declan Kidney came in, he wanted to get a really good squad together and I think he has achieved that with 30 really good players at this World Cup.
“The level of competition within the squad is high, we have pushed each other really hard in training and we will be ready next weekend.”
Their European rugby experiences will also stand to the Irish players on the world stage according to Heaslip, surrounded as he is by Heineken Cup winners from his own Leinster and Munster.
“We are kind of lucky in that the Heineken Cup is run in the same format as the World Cup and we have a lot of experience playing in that kind of competition every year,” claimed the big number eight.
“Group stages, as we all know from Europe, are tough to get out of just by the very nature of them and it is how you perform on any given day that counts after that.
“But all we are worrying about is getting out of the group. The focus starts on the first game next weekend and that is all that matters for now.
Ireland forward Donncha O’Callaghan believes the timing of Sunday’s opening World Cup fixture and the insider knowledge of their Irish coach Eddie O’Sullivan will give America a huge lift in New Zealand.
The game will be played in New Plymouth on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 atrocities at the Twin Towers.
The date will obviously be a poignant and emotional one for the American players, a fact not lost on Munster star O’Callaghan.
“Playing the U.S. on the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks and against our old coach, it will be a big occasion,” said Corkman O’Callaghan. “We expect the U.S. to be fired up for this match.”
U.S. coach O’Sullivan, in charge when Ireland flopped at the 2007 Rugby World Cup in France, will also know the opposition inside out on Sunday after seven years in charge of the rugby boys in green.
“Eddie knows every one of us really well. We know he will exploit any weaknesses in our side,” added O’Callaghan. “He puts in so much time into analyzing opposition teams.
“Eddie was an incredible coach and I learnt so much from him. I liked him too.
“There were never any grey areas, just black and white. He never shied away from telling you what was required. Personally I found that brilliant.”
Ireland will meet Pool C rivals Australia in Auckland on September 17 and Italy on October 2.
“It’s a tough pool. The Russians looked strong in the Churchill Cup while Italy are our most physical game in the Six Nations,” said O’Callaghan.
“Australia are playing very well. We know all about tough pools in the Heineken Cup and it’s about playing knockout rugby every week.”
Cian Healy and Gordon D’Arcy have arrived at the Irish team’s New Zealand base ahead of the World Cup kick-off after staying on in Dublin for treatment for eye and calf injuries respectively.
Healy isn’t expected to be fit in time for the opening match against the U.S. on Sunday, but D’Arcy should be fit to partner Brian O’Driscoll in the centre.
Rob Kearney (groin) and Sean O’Brien (knee) are also expected to be fit for Sunday’s opening pool game.
O’Driscoll is also confident he will play against the U.S. on Sunday despite a recent shoulder injury.
“The shoulder feels OK. I was training away earlier, though granted we didn’t do too much contact,” said O’Driscoll.
“The more rest time I get, the better. At this moment in time I don’t see any reason why I won’t be playing against the U.S.”
Champions Munster opened their Celtic League campaign with a 20-12 win over the Newport-Gwent Dragons at Musgrave Park.
Connacht went to Italy and win 11-9 at Benetton Treviso and Ulster defeated Glasgow 28-14 at Ravenhill. Leinster were the only Irish province to lose as they went down 27-3 away to the Ospreys.
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