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Dallaglio’s backing Ireland’s World Cup bid

By Niall Crozier

Shepherd’s Bush-born and reared Lawrence Dallaglio could have played rugby for Ireland. Or Italy.

In both cases, his eligibility was a result of his mother Eileen’s half-Irish, half-Italian background.

Instead the Londoner opted for England and the rest, as they say, is history.

So when a competitor of his background and calibre urges Ireland to believe in their ability and commit themselves to trying to win the 2011 World Cup, one sits up and listens.

We met this week in Belfast, where he stopped off en route to Murrayfield as part of his 2,800-kilometre 24-day Cycle Slam bike ride through each of the Six Nations.

Over a bite to eat in Pizza Express, co-sponsors of his trek, he talked about the current RBS 6 Nations Championship.

“I’d say this year’s series has probably gone to form. France are always going to be very dangerous the year after a Lions tour,” he said.

“They look very strong, very powerful, very muscular. And they’re playing to their potential so they look like they’re going to run out certainly as winners, even if it isn’t as Grand Slam champions,” is his assessment.

Turning his attention to Ireland he continues: “Backing up after winning a Grand Slam is tough. The season after is always difficult.

“They have a crunch game this weekend against Wales and if they win it they’ll have had a successful campaign. If they lose it, that would be a backward step for them.

“Wales have probably played the best rugby, but only for 40 minutes at a time.

“And England are inching forward, but slowly.”

He has been critical of the English side, but in a constructive manner. His Irish-Italian roots notwithstanding, he is an Englishman through and through, a fact underlined when the talk turned to the World Cup.

“I’d just point out that England have won that,” he reminds you. “France haven’t. No other Northern Hemisphere nation has.

“The Rugby World Cup has been dominated by the Southern Hemisphere so for England to have broken that monopoly was a very difficult thing to do and a great achievement.

“Hopefully Ireland will give that a go next year,” he adds.

“I think that’s where they should be aiming. Let’s face it, the Six Nations is just a stepping stone these days.”

Reliving the England-Ireland game of February 27: “Apart from Tommy Bowe, who obviously scored those two tries, the Irish back row won them that game. England dominated the game in terms of possession, and territory, but they were never able to get quick ball and get away.

“It’s wrong to single out individuals in a back row. It’s a unit. Ferris (Stephen) is very good, though Wallace (David) and Heaslip (Jamie) are great players, too, so they complement one another in every way.

“And they’ve probably got one or two others who are knocking on the door as well, so Ireland’s back row is very strong at the moment.

“That’s why I’m looking forward to the World Cup to see how they match up to some of the best back rows in the world.

“Building a great side takes time,” he reminds me in response to a question about England's current situation.

“This Irish side took a while to come to the boil and hopefully they’ve got things just about right for the World Cup.

“They should be setting their sights a bit higher than the Six Nations. They should be working towards winning the World Cup, which is what I’m assuming they want to do.

“So why can’t they go and challenge? That’s not a criticism. It’s just to say that once you’ve won the Grand Slam you raise the bar again and then it becomes about beating New Zealand, South Africa and Australia. That’s something I believe Ireland are capable of doing. They’ve done it at home and now the challenge for those players is to do it away.”

Reflecting on Ireland’s failure to do that in Paris a few weeks ago, he offers: “You can be a great side and still lose a game.

“Then it’s down to how you respond and Ireland responded by winning at Twickenham.

“Even the best sides in the world — New Zealand, South Africa, Australia — lose the odd game. So long as it’s just the odd game and that doesn’t become a habit, that’s fine.”

And again looking south of the Equator he notes: “Of the Northern Hemisphere countries, Ireland were the only one to have had positive results against them last autumn. They drew with Australia and beat South Africa.”

Asked what it takes to win a World Cup he says: “Very good players and a little bit of luck. The winners aren’t always the best team in the competition.”

Significantly, he feels that hosting the World Cup may put unbearable pressure on New Zealand.

“The pressure, as hosts, is colossal. The French didn’t win it in France, the Australians didn’t manage it when they were at home, nor did England, though South Africa did.

“So I wouldn’t be rushing out to put all my money on the All Blacks at this stage, especially given their form in recent World Cups. Of course they’ll be in there along with the rest of the usual suspects, but it’s tough winning in your own country because there is so much pressure on your players.

“You can bet your bottom dollar that South Africa will have a decent side, as will Australia. And France, who are winning away from home which is significant. So it’s a question of the likes of England, Ireland and Wales being able to compete and at the moment, of those three, I’d say Ireland are best placed to mount a challenge.”

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