Still fresh from their historic 16-9 win over New Zealand in the Autumn Internationals, Ireland have set a marker ahead of the Rugby World Cup in Japan next year.
A first every victory over the All Blacks on home turf has seen the Irish catapulted to second favourites to win the tournament, which gets underway on September 20th in Tokyo.
Ireland have been priced at 4/1 which certainly provides good value for a side who have had a dazzling 2018.
Not satisfied with clinching their third Six Nations Grand Slam, Ireland also toppled Australia in a test series Down Under before their herculean win over the All Blacks in November, capping off a brilliant calendar year.
Can Ireland handle the pressure?
The Irish are certainly entering 2019 in blistering form and although they’ll be many punters’ tips to taste success in Japan, questions still linger about whether they can live up to expectations. A successful defence of their Six Nations crown will certainly help rest any unwanted nerves or fears and supporters will have renewed hope ahead of the tournament.
The win over New Zealand didn’t see them take the number one ranking from their victors, but All Blacks boss Steve Hansen did describe the Irish as the best team in the world currently. Hansen also followed up by explaining how Joe Schmidt’s men are favourites for the World Cup so it’s clear that the pressure is going to increase between now and September.
From an Irish perspective, they will be talked about in such a way and although their overall World Cup record hasn’t seen them get past the quarter-final stage, they must thrive amongst the fears and doubts that may still exist. Currently, Ireland appear unplayable and after their extraordinary 2018, it would be more of a surprise if they didn’t surpass their lofty expectations.
Do Ireland have the strength in depth?
With the likes of Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray and Tadhg Furlong in their ranks, Ireland certainly have some world-beaters they can rely upon. The trio will be vital if Ireland are to be successful in Japan and they also have some young hopefuls who are expected to make a big impression.
Peter O’Mahony and Sean O’Brien are two more names who’ll be imperative to Ireland’s chances of winning a first World Cup. Youngster James Ryan looks very assured at international level and will only get better between now and the start of the tournament.
All-in-all, the Irish have a finely balanced squad with a healthy mix of youth and experience to be called upon. Perhaps Schmidt can unearth another gem between now and the start of the tournament? But it’s fair to say that Ireland’s current squad is one to envy.
Who’ll provide the biggest threat to Ireland’s chances?
The short answer to that would be the All Blacks. The back-to-back World Cup winners will provide the sternest of tests to not only Ireland’s hopes, but the rest of the front-runners for the tournament. November’s victory certainly suggests they can mix it with the world’s best but Schmidt will want to see his side continue to flourish.  
England, France, Australia and South Africa will naturally pose a threat to Ireland’s aspirations but judging by results in 2018, expect Schmidt’s team to handle themselves once again. It would be unfair to exclude Wales and in spite of them perhaps not being at the levels they were in the last few years, they’ll still provide a solid challenge if drawn together.
For Schmidt, he’ll want to prepare his side for the rigours and endeavours that lay in wait before finalising plans for Japan. Six Nations odds are now available and unsurprisingly, the Irish are current favourites at 1.91 (10/11) via Betfair’s Exchange.
A second successive victory next spring will really strike fear amongst Ireland’s rivals and from that, undeniably, they’ll be major contenders for a maiden World Cup triumph in 2019.