The Good: The backs should be able to hold their own in this group, and they do have some livewire outside backs. They also have a rugged set of forwards also capable of explosive play, which will prove to be very useful in this group. They also feel confident enough in a booming domestic scene to include two players from Ireland, and two more who have just stepped up to National League rugby this season. There appears to be a real team spirit in the camp, which should prove useful in what could be a brutal group.
The Bad: Lacking in real quality, as shown by the fact that only thirteen of their squad played top-flight rugby last year. Injury has robbed them of some really good players like Chris Bridge. Most crucially though they appear to be lacking any outstanding talent in midfield, and probably have to play with makeshift half-backs. There is a feeling that Ireland will be outmatched in this group, and they will really have to up their game to prove otherwise.
The Ugly: Ireland’s moaning about being stuck in economy class for their trip to Australia whilst England loafed around in Business Class (drinking the finest champagne and receiving the most exquisite massages, no doubt) seems a PR master-stroke, with the Wolfhounds now cast as chippy underdogs with a point to prove. My question is: why didn’t the RLI just pay for an upgrade?
The Key: Ireland have a lot of talented players, and they need to make sure that they gel into an effective unit. Can Ireland neutralize the forward threat they will face long enough to give their backs the momentum? Will they be able to capitalize on the opportunities they get enough times to force the pressure onto the opposition? Perhaps most importantly, will they be able to do this twice?
The Coach: Andy Kelly is an experienced coach, having had posts at Super League and National League clubs. What may really play into his favour is that he has basically had the last five months to prepare for Ireland specifically since leaving Dewsbury by mutual consent in May. Having guided Ireland through the qualification stages to direct qualification at the expense of Russia and Lebanon, Kelly will be assisted in Australia by former Ireland Internationals Barrie McDermott and Terry O’Connor, who have decided to take time away from their Sky commitments to help out the Wolfhounds.
Star Man: Pat Richards endured a tricky time for the first few months of his time at Wigan, especially in the context of him arriving as one of the NRL’s leading wingers having (doing a good gob of finishing of Benji Marshall’s work for my favourite NRL Grand Final try). It turned the problem was rather simple to fix; he wasplaying Centre when he should have been on the Wing, and since the move out wide (or to full-back) he’s been consistently excellent and a points machine, having taken up the kicking responsibilities at Wigam with aplomb and was Super League’s top point scorer for the last two Regular Seasons. He also really looks like former UFC Middleweight Champion Rich ‘Ace’ Franklin.
Wild Card: As someone who’s been to New River to watch London Skolars play a few times this season, something I’ve heard a fair amount of is “A try there for London Skolars, scored by Wayne Kerr”, usually followed by an ironic cheer by the travelling fans. Sure, he gets attention for his name, but he’s also a forward who knows his way to the try-line and if he’s allowed to put on a good showing at this World Cup it could lead to bigger and better things for Wayne.
Young Gun: It’s a nice piece of serendipity for Ireland that seemingly half of the products of the Wigan Academy over the last few seasons qualify for Ireland, and they will be especially pleased to have acquired the services of Michael McIlorum. Having really come on leaps and bounds this year, McIlorum will no doubt want want to make his case to Brian Noble for next year’s tussle with Mark Riddell for the Warriors’ starting berth at hooker. He might just be the spark in midfield that Ireland will definitely need.
In Conclusion… The Wolfhounds appear to be seen as The Other Team in Group C, and it’s not too hard to see why. They are lacking in strength in depth and also lack any exciting, game- breaking individuals. However, they do appear to have a strong team spirit going into this tournament and it is entirely possible that they prefer people overlooking them; it’s far easier to cause an upset when you have been ignored and dismissed. They do have the advantage of having the longest rest in between pool games; it’s up to them to show they have the tools at their disposal to utilise such an advantage.
Squad: Ross Barbour (Carlow Crusaders), Bob Beswick (Widnes), Damien Blanch (Wakefield), Mick Cassidy (Barrow), Ged Corcoran (Sheffield), Lee Doran (Leigh), Liam Finn (Dewsbury), Simon Finnigan (Bradford), Karl Fitzpatrick (Salford), Steve Gibbons (London Skolars), Sean Gleeson (Wakefield), Scott Grix (Wakefield), Brendan Guilfoyle (Treaty City Titans), Gareth Haggerty (Harlequins), Ben Harrison (Warrington), Graham Holroyd (Halifax), Wayne Kerr (London Skolars), Stuart Littler (Salford), Michael McIlorum (Wigan), Shayne McMenemy (unattached), Eamon O’Carroll (Wigan), Michael Platt (Bradford), Pat Richards (Wigan), Ryan Tandy (Wests Tigers).