Ireland face pool of death at RWC 2007

Eddie O’Sullivan has delivered a sobering reality check over growing expectation that Ireland can mount a serious World Cup challenge by warning of the “dogfight” that awaits in the group stages.

A hat-trick of victories from the autumn series, which included emphatic defeats of southern hemisphere big-guns South Africa and Australia, has seen the current Irish side widely touted as the best of all time.

They will enter the RBS 6 Nations as favourites and on current form only the All Blacks sit above them in Test rugby’s pecking order.

But O’Sullivan insists the optimism surrounding their chances at next year’s World Cup is clouded by the misfortune of being drawn alongside France and Argentina in the ‘group of death’.

The tournament hosts edged Argentina 27-26 in Paris on Saturday and with three top six sides competing in Pool D, O’Sullivan is refusing to consider the knockout stages.

“France’s game against the Pumas proved what the group of death is going to be like,” he said.

“We can talk all we want about quarter-finals and semi-finals but the most important thing for us at the World Cup is to get out of that group.

“It’s a very difficult group and we’re concerned about getting out of it. I can guarantee France are concerned at getting out of it as well, even though they’re the host nation.

“France are starting to feel the pressure now in that if things go wrong for them they might miss the boat.

“It’ll be a real dogfight come the World Cup. I don’t want to think about too much else because there will be a lot of pressure on us.”

Successive drubbings by New Zealand and the narrow win over Argentina have left French rugby in a sorry state but O’Sullivan insists they will come good in time for the Six Nations.

“France are struggling to find a fly-half but they always have good players. It will take just a couple of small adjustments and they’ll take off again,” he said.

“The Six Nations will steady the ship. Writing off France now would be madness. They have the capacity to play poorly and sublimely.”

Pacific Islanders head coach Pat Lam hailed Ireland as the second best team in the world following the crushing 61-17 loss at Lansdowne Road yesterday.

It was not the first time this month the green shirts have been paid such a lofty tribute with Australia boss John Connolly, whose side were reduced to an indisciplined rabble, also impressed by what he saw.

O’Sullivan, however, is desperate to keep his players’ feet on the ground – despite their growing reputations.

“It’s a nice compliment from Pat but I don’t know if it’s true. All I know is we’ve made good progress and I’m very happy,” he said.

“You can get wrapped up in that nonsense whereby you tell yourself how good you are. We need to focus on what we’re about.

“We’ve done a good job this autumn and the lads deserve a pat on the back for a good month’s work.

“But you put it in the bank and kick on because before you know it we’ll be looking down the barrel of the Six Nations and there will be a whole bunch of new challenges there.

“We’re not getting carried away. Our success this month doesn’t mean anything if we don’t build on it and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Ireland’s success this month stretched beyond the results with O’Sullivan having established several relatively new faces in the squad – Paddy Wallace, Bryan Young and Isaac Boss among them.

But the Irish head coach insists the time for experimentation is over as he targets an end to the nation’s 22-year search for Six Nations glory.

“We’ve used 26 players and when you look at it like that we’ve dug pretty deep into our cover. We’ve built depth in key positions and in terms of versatility,” he said.

“Players have been able to perform in different positions as well. I’m pretty happy at the moment. We’ve done it now bec

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