Brian O’Driscoll is concerned by Ireland’s form a month out from the Rugby World Cup but believes they can swiftly turn their fortunes around.
Ireland were the dominant team in world rugby in 2018, winning the Six Nations Grand Slam and defeating world champions New Zealand.
But this year has been a different story, with a humbling 57-15 reverse to England in Saturday’s World Cup warm-up at Twickenham providing cause for concern.
Yet former Ireland star O’Driscoll is backing Joe Schmidt’s men to respond, potentially starting with back-to-back fixtures against Wales before the tournament in Japan.
“It’s concerning in that you would prefer to be playing with huge confidence,” O’Driscoll, a Land Rover ambassador, told Omnisport.
“In the first warm-up games, you have a stuffy victory against Italy and then a resounding defeat to England, who just looked like a completely different level.
“Of course, I’d be concerned that the confidence appears to have taken a dent and you want to go in [to the World Cup] feeling as though you can play your best rugby or you have your best rugby in close parameters to where you’re at. That doesn’t seem to be the case at the moment.
“But sport can be fickle and it can turn around very, very quickly as well. We saw the All Blacks beaten badly by Australia and coming around the following week and hammering them at home, nilling them. You can turn it around.
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“What I’m sure will disappoint Joe Schmidt the most is that the lads just didn’t seem like the same accuracy and same levels expected of them were delivered at the weekend.
“But they have a chance this weekend of putting that right. That’s the beauty of having a game the following week after a big defeat.”
If Ireland can rediscover some confidence, O’Driscoll suggests recent results should not quell optimism ahead of the World Cup.
“It’s happened with New Zealand for a number of World Cups, where they’ve peaked in between and not quite been able to manage it on the biggest stage,” he said.
“That’s the question with Ireland now, they’ve not quite delivered at a World Cup level. But that doesn’t mean this time [they] can’t turn that around.
“It’s not ideal preparation so far, but the way the group works, playing Scotland and Japan – they’re capable of winning both of those games and also the two other games [against Russia and Samoa].
“Finish top of the group and you have the game of your life against New Zealand or South Africa – win that and you’re in a semi-final.
“That really simplifies it, but any team will tell you, get to a semi-final and of course you’re capable of winning a World Cup. You’re one game away from playing in a World Cup final.”
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