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Ireland looking to break World Cup hoodoo

by Andrew McKirdy

Staff Writer

The Ireland rugby team believes it deserves to be considered among the favorites to lift the 2019 World Cup in Japan and has little time for suggestions that the six-time quarterfinalist is jinxed in the competition.

“We’re ranked third in the world and we were second in the world at one stage,” hooker James Tracy told The Japan Times ahead of Ireland’s second test against Japan at Tokyo’s Ajinomoto Stadium on Saturday.

“I think we’d be foolish to think we don’t have a chance,” he said. “Everything we do builds toward winning trophies, Six Nations and test matches, so our ambition will be to win.”

Ireland has never made it past the quarterfinals of the World Cup despite competing in all eight editions of the competition, and has failed to even reach the last eight on two occasions.

That underwhelming record has come despite the presence of legendary players such as Brian O’Driscoll, Keith Wood and Ronan O’Gara over the years, but Tracy brushes aside the notion that previous failures have left a psychological scar on the current team.

“I haven’t heard of anyone talking about anything like that,” said the 25-year-old, who came on as a second-half substitute in Ireland’s 50-22 win over Japan in Shizuoka last Saturday.

“It will be a new group of players. In World Cup rugby, anything can happen. I think it just hasn’t fallen the right way for Ireland in the past. But looking forward, this group of players have all been in winning teams with our provinces and some of the lads have had success with Ireland. To get a taste for that is all you want and all you’re thinking about, really.

“You’re thinking about winning rather than worrying about losing.”

Ireland has achieved a string of impressive results over the past year, beating New Zealand for the first time ever in Chicago in November before thwarting England’s bid for a second-straight Six Nations grand slam and a new world-record 19th straight win in Dublin in March.

Head coach Joe Schmidt has won universal plaudits since taking over from Declan Kidney in April 2013. The New Zealander is now making an impression on a new generation of players, having selected an inexperienced squad for the trip to Japan in the absence of 11 British and Irish Lions.

“He’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever dealt with,” said 22-year-old center Garry Ringrose, who won his 10th cap and scored a try against Japan on Saturday. “He has an incredible attention to detail — about our own team; that everyone knows their role, and also detail on the opposition; that everyone knows the opponents we’re playing against.

“He brings the best out of players by being tough on them in some areas, as well as encouraging them in others. I think that’s what makes him the best coach.”

Ringrose sat on the bench for Ireland’s historic 40-29 win over the All Blacks at Soldier Field on Nov. 5, but he has since gone on to claim a regular place in the team after making his debut one week later against Canada.

“I think the biggest learning curve for me was seeing the preparation it takes at international level to beat the top teams in the world,” Ringrose said of the win over New Zealand, which came in the 29th meeting between the two teams — a period spanning 111 years.

“It’s the work you put in, the preparation in the lead-up to the game that ultimately impacts the result, as opposed to getting too worried about the result in the first place.”

Ireland will now attempt to make it three wins out of three on its current tour — having also beaten the United States 55-19 in New Jersey on June 10 — when it takes on Japan on Saturday.

The two teams have both been drawn in Pool A at the World Cup alongside Scotland and two countries yet to qualify, but Ireland scrum coach Greg Feek believes his side has gotten more than just a close look at its on-field rival over the past two weeks.

“I think there is an element of looking ahead, even just doing the basic things like going for dinner and being in the hotel and traveling and having days off,” he said. “We will look at that with a microscope in two years’ time, so it’s been good in that respect. Two years before the World Cup, you are always trying to have plans and put things in place.”

And the Irish team has enjoyed its time in Japan off the field as well as on it, taking in a visit to a sumo stable as well as other tourist spots since arriving on June 12.

“I think for any tour it’s all about enjoying yourself as much as anything else,” said Tracy. “If you’re not getting involved in the different cultures and things like that, your team will never bond. It’s been brilliant and the people have been so nice to us as well.”

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