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Rugby World Cup: Joe Schmidt relies too heavily on his core players says Will Carling

By Cian Tracey

Will Carling reckons Ireland are the best equipped northern hemisphere side to mount a World Cup challenge - but he has concerns surrounding Joe Schmidt's squad.

The former England captain is full of admiration for what Ireland have achieved in the last two seasons; however, he understands the difficulties of sustaining a challenge for the biggest prize of all across a gruelling six weeks.

The pain of the final defeat to Australia in 1991 is still clearly etched in Carling's memory and as he casts his eye over Ireland's chances of going one better, he points to their apparent lack of strength in depth.

"Ireland are a strong side. They are the strongest side in the northern hemisphere, in my mind," Carling enthused. "I've always been a fan of Tommy Bowe and I think (Jonny) Sexton is exceptional. (Robbie) Henshaw is physical and has done well too.

"Brian O'Driscoll is pretty incomparable to most other players but you haven't noticed too much of an issue since he's been gone.

"(Paul) O'Connell is outstanding. There are so many key players, but my concern from an Irish point of view is if you lose Sexton or O'Connell you could be in trouble. Their squad is not as deep as some. That's the issue with Ireland.

"If they all stay fit, they'll be there or thereabouts but if they lose a couple of key players, I think they'll struggle because they don't quite have the same strength in depth that other countries have."

During his analysis of Ireland's prospects, Sexton's name is the one that repeatedly comes up.

Carling is a keen admirer of the Leinster out-half and is quick to point to his display against England in the Six Nations earlier this year.

Sexton gave a masterclass in game management and up against a young pretender in George Ford, he dominated proceedings.

The precision in which Sexton executed every aspect of his game was a joy to watch and Carling believes that it could well prove to be a pivotal moment in Ford's career.

Come September 18, when England open the World Cup against Fiji, coach Stuart Lancaster will have a big decision to make as to who he selects as starting out-half.

Carling insists that Ford has earned the right to begin the tournament as first choice but he knows that Owen Farrell is lying in wait.

At just 22, Ford's best days are still ahead of him and even though his performance at the Aviva Stadium back in March could hardly be classed as poor, Carling is adamant that the Bath player has improved since being taught a lesson by Sexton.

"In George Ford, England have found a guy who can really play on the gain-line," Carling explained. "I think actually that's probably caused them a little bit of confusion. They seemed set on a style of play with Farrell and now Ford has come along and we've got the ability to have variety in our game.

"People say that he had a shaky game against Ireland in the Six Nations but he was playing against probably the in-form No 10 in the world who had an outstanding game that afternoon.

"It wasn't as if George had an average game. So you're thinking, okay, England didn't hit the mark that day but they weren't allowed to by Ireland and George is still a young kid.

"Up until the start of the Six Nations, he hadn't really started many big games so his learning curve is going through the roof.

"I've been really impressed by his composure."

Lancaster will name his 31-man World Cup squad this afternoon (1.45pm), and among those names who will not be included are Manu Tuilagi and Dylan Hartley.

The pair's repeated disciplinary issues have been well documented and Carling doesn't have much sympathy for either.

"It's what Lancaster didn't need but it comes down to personal discipline which is every player's own responsibility," Carling insisted.

"They'll regret it for the rest of their lives.

"It really is tragic from their point of view but they haven't got anyone else to blame other than themselves."

Former England centre Will Carling is a brand ambassador with Heineken, proud sponsor of the Rugby World Cup for 20 years.

Belfast Telegraph


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