Irish rugby may be soaring sky high but former captain Brian O’Driscoll has urged caution over getting carried away with their recent success as the Rugby World Cup remains 14 months away.
O’Driscoll believes that the Six Nations Grand Slam winners must continue to take small steps individually in order to improve and remain on course to challenge at Japan 2019, even though their near-100 per cent winning record in 2017/18 has seen them rise to No 2 in the world rankings and emerge as the biggest threat to world champions New Zealand after clinching their first series victory in Australia in 39 years.
With Irish rugby on a high like never before, that momentum appears to have translated to the Sevens team, which returned to the World Rugby Sevens Series last month after 13 seasons away following an invitation to join ahead of their first appearance at the Rugby World Cup Sevens in nine years this weekend. They played in both the London Sevens and Paris finale in June, and not only did they reach the Cup knockout stages of both to exceed expectations, but beat both the United States and England to finish third in London.
O’Driscoll was there at Twickenham to watch their triumph, which came just a week after Irish province Leinster had completed their Pro14 and European Champions Cup double for the first time, but while he gave the 12 players involved full credit for what they achieved, he urged caution over the feel-good atmosphere around Irish rugby at present.
“I have to say, I’d seen on social media that they were training for it, so to get a guest appearance is great and to do as well as they did and they have done, to be vying for a third-fourth-place play-off in the Cup, they will have never imagined that would’ve been attainable,” O’Driscoll tells The Independent. “So huge kudos to them, the game against the USA was brilliant, but even the way they played against Fiji, scoring a couple of tries, not throwing the towel in, huge credit to them.
“Listen, there’s no doubt there’s a lot of confidence in the country at the moment. The provincial set-up is good, the international team is going well last year and with the World Cup coming next year we’re definitely excited but I think you always have to put everything into perspective as well that a lot can change in the game too and you just have to continue, make small improvements with yourself and not worry about how everyone else is going.
“Just continue on your own progression and then hopefully the results will look after themselves.”
The Irish Rugby Football Union [IRFU] brought the Sevens programme back into full effect when the game was restored to the Olympic programme, and despite missing out on Rio 2016, they are looking rather handy to compete for a place at Tokyo 2020 – with a strong showing here in San Francisco set to help them significantly on that journey.
But the IRFU have also been praised for their system to centrally contract their best players in the country in order to manage their playing time, with the likes of England unable to do so as the Premiership clubs still retain a large slice of power in the eternal club vs country row.
O’Driscoll believes that with a system in place that protect the very best players, develops younger talent in the Pro14 and brings success at all levels, the Irish way is becoming the envy of the world.
“I think it’s a combination of all aspects, I don’t think you can pin it on one area. Be it through good fortune or good foresight this system absolutely works, to the envy of many countries around the world,” he adds.
“The way our national contracted players and how those players are looked after, and I think if you look at the models of other countries like how Wales are trying to do it now, you get the best out of the players for a province, but then you also get to pick and choose the important games that they’re involved in. You get them in peak condition in the lead-up to the Six Nations or November internationals or a World Cup.
“So ultimately you govern them nationally first but then you sublet them down to the provincial set-up and I think whenever Ireland have been successful internationally, for the provincial sides to still be putting out the way they have is to huge credit, being able to manage huge numbers and a competitive environment because they’re having to play without players at times that ultimately would be their first-choice selections.”
Swiss watchmaker TUDOR is the Official Time Keeper of Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018 in partnership with World Rugby. For further information visit www.tudorwatch.com.