Joe Schmidt fears Canada could prove “an incredible banana skin” for an Ireland side chasing their best-ever World Cup return.
Ireland open their World Cup Pool D campaign by facing Canada in Cardiff on Saturday week, with head coach Schmidt at pains not to underestimate the world’s 18th-ranked side.
Behemoth lock Jamie Cudmore will enjoy a reunion with his former Clermont coach Schmidt in Cardiff next weekend, the evergreen 37-year-old keen to spring an upset.
Ireland are overwhelming favourites to subdue the Canucks, and heavily backed to plough on through to a first-ever World Cup semi-final – but Schmidt remains cautious ahead of the opening clash.
“I know that people probably won’t see them in the same light, but I think they are an incredible banana skin for us,” said Schmidt.
“And you don’t have to look back too far to 2007 and assumptions can undo teams very, very quickly.
“We’re not assuming anything other than Canada will be right up for the game.”
The dismal showing in 2007 remains the only time the Irish have failed to progress from the World Cup pool stages.
Argentina and hosts France qualified at Ireland’s expense eight years ago, and Schmidt is determined his class of 2015 will not befall a similar fate.
France are Ireland’s chief Pool D rivals at this World Cup, but Italy are desperate not to make up the numbers in a group also containing Romania.
Ireland could be sorely tempted to mix up selection for their World Cup opener, as their Pool D schedule builds towards the clear climax against France.
Former Leinster coach Schmidt insists he will not take any early risks however, keen to set a dominant tone, especially after consecutive Test defeats to Wales and England.
“I know their coaching staff really well with Kieran Crowley, Neil Barnes and Leo Crowley there, I know the skipper really well in Jamie Cudmore,” said Schmidt.
“And I just think the threat across the backline that they have, it could be one of those games where if it’s a bit dour up front and it’s hard to get a lot of success there, you don’t need to invite (Jeff) Hessler or DTH Van der Merwe into the game too often for them to have a pretty serious impact on the scoreboard.
“So from that perspective we just don’t feel we can afford to take chances.”