Ireland eager to put previous Rugby World Cup disappointments behind them

The big one.

Ireland have headed into the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France desperate to banish the memories of previous disappointments at the tournament.

They have never progressed beyond the quarter-finals in nine attempts, despite being touted as potential winners on several occasions. It is a similar story this year, with Ireland’s superb performances in the Six Nations bearing all the hallmarks of a world championship team.

Online bookmakers rate Ireland as the fourth favourites to lift the trophy, with only New Zealand, France and South Africa ahead of them in the outright market. The Kiwis are a best-priced 3/1 to win their fourth world title, while France are available at 10/3. Reigning champions South Africa are next on the list at odds of 7/2.

Fans of sports betting in Ireland may well be tempted to wade in on their heroes at 9/2 despite a last-minute blow to their hopes of success in France.

Cian Healy missed out on the squad after suffering a calf injury in a warm-up game against Samoa and his experience will be missed at the World Cup.

However, head coach Andy Farrell has picked a talented 33-man squad for the tournament, 15 of whom have previously featured at this level.

They include veteran Ireland captain Johnny Sexton, who will be raring to go after being ruled out of action due to injury and suspension. The 38-year-old will retire after featuring in his fourth World Cup and is eager to end his career by leading Ireland to victory in France.

When asked whether Ireland’s preparations have gone to plan, Sexton told the BBC:

“Time will tell. The proof will be in how we perform and the results that we get,” he said

“At the moment, we feel in a good place but we’ve got to go and do it now. We’re a very close group. We’ve built that over the last four years.

“Our initial thoughts was ‘we’re gutted for Cian’ – that’s where we’ve been. But once we get out there now, as far as I know Cian’s doing really well, and it’s made us feel a bit better.

“We’re all systems go now. We’re looking forward to a huge tournament ahead.”

After sweeping to an impressive Grand Slam at the Six Nations, have subsequently extended their winning run to a record 13 matches at international level. Their last defeat was a 42-19 reverse against New Zealand in July 2022 – a result they quickly avenged with two successive victories during the same month.

South Africa and Australia are among the other teams they have beaten in the last year, further highlighting their hopes of becoming world champions. Subsequent victories in their three warm-up games against Italy, England and Samoa have got Irish punters dreaming about bashing the bookies.

While scrum-half Conor Murray is delighted with the team’s run of form, he insists it will count for little when the tournament gets underway.

“You have to bring your best rugby when you get to the tournament – when the competition kicks off for real,” Murray said.

“But we know how good the team can be. We also know how hard we have to work to get to that level and be there every week.

“The summer series was good and people got hit outs and we feel match fit now, but it’s a different animal by the time the World Cup comes around.

“We know where we can go as a group – the confidence is really high.”

Ireland kick off their Pool B fixtures against Romania on September 9. Further games follow against Tonga, South Africa and Scotland.

South Africa are 19/20 favourites to win the group, with Ireland next best in the Pool B betting at 11/8. Scotland are third best, while Tonga and Romania are expected to struggle.

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