Strong squad crucial to World Cup success for Ireland says Simon Best

The Webb Ellis Cup at Ulster Rugby, Belfast
The Webb Ellis Cup at Ulster Rugby, Belfast

Ireland will not make the same mistakes of previous Rugby World Cup tournaments, according to their former prop Simon Best.

Joe Schmidt’s side are currently third in the International Rugby Board rankings and head into the 2015 World Cup this autumn full of confidence having won the last two Six Nations Championship titles.

But Ireland have never progressed beyond the quarter-final stage in seven World Cups and Best - who played at the 2003 and 2007 tournaments, the latter when they even failed to make it out of the group stages - is fully aware that history is against Schmidt’s men.

“We always seem to have disappointing World Cups,” Best told the News Letter at Banbridge on Friday night.

“But this is a different era and a different Irish squad now.

“We’re in a similar position before. We had the potential to win but fell flat on our faces, but the difference now is we’ve got better depth below the first 15.

“There are 30 or 31 players who could get in that first team and you could argue there are another 10 guys who could be in the squad but won’t make it.

“That’s something we’ve struggled with in the past and the squads with the greatest depth are the ones that float to the top of the tournament as it goes on.”

Best joined the Rugby World Cup tour around Ireland on Friday as the Webb Ellis Trophy dropped in on Ulster’s Kingspan Stadium and his own local club, Banbridge in County Down. His brother, Rory is the current Ulster captain and Ireland hooker.

The former Ulster captain said excitement was building in Ireland ahead of the tournament as there is a belief in the country that they compete against the world’s best.

“We got in a good position in 2011 by beating Australia at the pool stage and then let ourselves down against Wales in the quarter-final,” Best said.

“But we’re strong in areas we haven’t been before, such as the front row where we’ve got depth, and although we were criticised last season for our attacking prowess I’m sure Joe Schmidt will come up with some things we’ve not seen before.

“The squad has blossomed under Joe and he has put in a game plan which has given Ireland credibility on the global stage.

“The World Cup could also be a fitting send-off for Paul O’Connell on the international stage, he has been a great ambassador for Irish rugby and this tournament could be his legacy.

“It’s the most wide-open tournament ever as I think six or seven teams have the potential to win it - and Ireland are one of them.”