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Rugby World Cup: History suggests Ireland can unlock title challenge

By Neil Francis

So! Time now to restore the fundamental equilibrium of the universe. Now we find out who is the best. Whatever else you can say about the previous seven World Cups, invariably the best team wins.

The 1995 All Black side may disagree with that notion but they were a dodgy lasagne away from natural justice. The Springboks bristled that day - desire and unquestionable integrity - and the effort in their challenge made up for their other shortcomings.

I have no idea who is going to win this competition but I do think that whoever beats New Zealand will succeed - unless of course it is the All Blacks themselves.

To get a better idea I think it is important to see what the pre-requisites are to win.

The best teams always seem to have the best coach, men of vision and difference makers.

It is true that four years ago Marc Lievremont got France to a final. There is, however, only so long you can continue to fly blind. The senior French players had sidelined him anyway from the quarter-final onwards.

There is one immutable requirement: you will not win the World Cup with a bad coach.

In 1987, Brian Lochore won the inaugural World Cup with New Zealand. He wasn't a genius but got his team to play to their strengths - simple, direct rugby.

Bob Dwyer, who won it in 1991, was an innovator. That Australian side were the most fabulously talented group of players, featuring some of the greatest of all time.

There are pitfalls that might not be obvious, such as the burden of favouritism, too many egos, over-confidence, wrong tactics - and Dwyer did a brilliant job.

Australia coach Rod McQueen, in 1999, was certainly the cleverest of the lot and again got his team to perform in the crucial games.

Clive Woodward, not everyone's favourite coach, didn't quite have a vision or a game-plan, but what he did have was a relentless pursuit of a set of fundamentals which England simply had to embrace to win.

By 2003, he knew the team that he wanted and the ethic was reinforced by strong leadership across the board.

New Zealand's Graham Henry nearly blew it in 2011. He lost his playmakers for the second time in four years as cruel luck deprived him of Dan Carter and from the quarter-final on, they really had to suck it in to win the crown from memory.

Henry deserved his victory because New Zealand pushed new boundaries - rugby only a brilliant mind could imagine.

Captaincy is also critical. Look at the list of captains who have lifted the World Cup: David Kirk, Nick Farr-Jones, Francois Pienaar, John Eales, Martin Johnson, John Smit and Richie McCaw. Exceptional individuals all made from the right stuff: intelligent, charismatic men who knew how to lead.

They seemed to be the dominant personality of their generation and more importantly came to the fore when the World Cups came around. If you want to win this competition, a strong captain is essential.

The last component is your halves - the guys who control the game. The following names just roll off the tongue because we marvelled at their control and precision: Kirk and Fox, Farr-Jones and Lynagh, Van der Westhuizen and Stransky, Gregan and Larkham, Dawson and Wilkinson, Du Preez and James, er, Weepu and Donald.

With the exception of the last pairing, the above names were the best around at the time.

And so what has gone before will give us a clue as to what will happen over the next few weeks. New Zealand, the favourites, have the best captain, the best halves and a good coach.

Australia have a really good coach in Michael Cheika, but is Stephen Moore a World Cup-winning captain?

The Aussies also have no real clue as to what their best half-back partnership is.

England have a warrior captain and one decent half-back in Ben Youngs. Neither Owen Farrell nor George Ford is ready to win a World Cup final on his own.

Stuart Lancaster has given England structure and belief but has not won anything.

South Africa have a charismatic but injury-prone leader in Jean de Villiers and have a serious decision to make about their halves, after bringing back Fourie du Preez, but Heyneke Meyer just isn't smart enough.

France have the worst coach in their history and are dependent on a bandaged-up Thierry Dusautoir. It probably means they will get to the final.

Whither Joe Schmidt, Paul O'Connell, Jonny Sexton and Conor Murray...?

Belfast Telegraph


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