The next Rugby World Cup may be 1,011 days away but Brian O’Driscoll is determined to make the plane for New Zealand in what would be a remarkable fourth tournament for the Ireland captain.
O’Driscoll, who will be 32 for the 2011 event, attended yesterday’s glittering draw in London which pitted Ireland with Australia and Six Nations Championship rivals Italy.
Completing Pool D will be Europe Two and Americas Two. The former will be the second placed finisher in a qualifying campaign featuring Georgia, Romania and Russia, while the latter will be the runners-up from a convoluted qualifying procedure that includes Canada, the USA and Uruguay.
If Ireland top the pool, the prize looks like being a quarter-final against Wales, with the possibilit y of a semi-final against France, Argentina and England.
A second-place finish in the pool would likely see a clash with reigning champions South Africa in the last eight, and if Ireland were to mount that daunting hurdle, the likelihood is that New Zealand would be their next opponents.
Of course making predictions about form for a tournament three years away is an impossible business, but one thing is certain, O’Driscoll wants to be part of it.
“You’re sitting there and you’re getting nervous (about the draw) and then you’re thinking ‘I hope I’ll have a reason to get nervous’, in that I hope I’m involved in it,” said O’Driscoll, who made his World Cup debut as a 20-year-old in 1999.
“If in three years’ time if I still have the wherewithal to play at this level, form included, then it would be fantastic to play in a fourth World Cup but it’s a long way away.”
Ulster captain Rory Best, who should be in his prime for a hooker at 29 for the next World Cup, believes the draw was kinder than it has been in the past for Ireland, who in the last two tournaments faced the respective hosts, Australia and France, as well as Argentina in the pool stages.
“It is certainly a more favourable draw for us than the last World Cup,” said Best. “But Australia will be a lot closer to home than us and Italy are always difficult to play against.”
Meanwhile Italy coach Nick Mallett has called for an Italian side to be included in the Magners League as he seeks to build a national team to challenge at the 2011 World Cup.
The South African believes his side are at a disadvantage because Italy's domestic league is nowhere near as strong as the Super 14 or Magners League which house their pool rivals’ players.
“The standard of club rugby is just not good enough and, unfortunately, Italy have got a system where they allow a lot of overseas players to play in Italy. There can be seven or eight overseas players on the field at one time and they are often in key positions,” said Mallett.
Antrim Grammar School have laid down an impressive marker with a 61-5 victory over Strabane GS in the first of the qualifying games in the first round of the Northern Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup.
Antrim’s hero was Adam Gray, who accummulated 38 points with five tries, five conversions and a penalty in the romp. The home side also scored further touchdowns by Scott McClenaghan, Michael Smith, Michael Alexander and Andrew Patterson.
Strabane face Wellington College in the second round robin game on Saturday, with Antrim at Wellington on December 13.