With the Rugby World Cup now at the quarter-final stage, Ireland face the All Blacks. Having never won a knock-out game at the World Cup, we asked their former no.8 and Grand Slam-winner Jamie Heaslip on how much he rates his nation’s chances against the favourites.
You’re obviously excited about the match, are you confident Ireland can win?
To an extent. At times I’m a bit baffled by the criticism of Ireland, I know their form has dipped but they’re still a very good team, it wasn’t that long ago that they were the best side in the world. They know the standards that they’re capable of and they know that they can reach them again.
If Ireland had topped their group they’d be playing South Africa, would you have preferred that?
Before the World Cup, before any game was played, I actually said that I’d rather we play New Zealand in the knock-out stages than South Africa. I just think that in a big, physical, toe-to-toe battle we might fall a bit short against the Springboks. I think we might actually benefit from a wider game, which will be the case against the All Blacks as opposed to the South Africans.
What do Ireland have to do to win?
I am optimistic but they’ve got to score a good amount of points. With the All Blacks, you can’t give them an inch, you can’t give them easy outs and you can’t give away stupid penalties. Bundee Aki and his suspension is a huge loss, but I think Robbie Henshaw might have started regardless. It would have been good being able to bring Aki on, though, if that was the case.
Do the All Blacks have any weaknesses?
Defensively New Zealand have their frailties, but there aren’t too many of them. Their lineout isn’t the best and you can get after it. At some point in the game you’ll get a glimpse of an opportunity, and you might get 20 minutes where you’re on top in the game, but you have to come away from that period with a proper amount of points. Likewise, when they’re on top, you’re defence has to be perfect.
Do recent wins give Ireland an edge at all?
Well, speaking of defence, in Andy Farrell (Ireland’s defence coach), they have the best person in the game at stopping the All Blacks scoring. Joe Schmidt and Farrell have been part of teams that have beaten them in the last few games. I love Faz (Farrell) – I had him as a coach on the Lions tour and when he arrived in Ireland, and he’s so good at getting players in the right headspace. They’ll still need to score a lot of points, though.
Can Ireland do it?
The short answer is: “Yes, we can”. The long answer is that a lot has to go right. New Zealand are in fine form, they’re statistically the number one attacking side at the World Cup and we’re the number one defensive team at the World Cup. We know we can beat them, we’ve beaten them in the past and we’ve got players and coaches that have also beaten them with the Lions as well as Ireland. I’m an optimist and the confidence is there, but a lot has to go right for us to do it.
Rugby World Cup quarter-final fixtures:
Saturday 19th October:
England vs Australia, 8:15am (BST)
New Zealand vs Ireland, 11:15am
Sunday 20th October:
Wales vs France, 8:15am
Japan vs South Africa, 11:15am
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