When you look at it in black and white that comment could have as many negative as positive implications. But the context was positive. Envious even. We were sitting in the Eagles team hotel in Surrey the other day where Eddie O’Sullivan was taking his team through a painful Churchill Cup campaign when he got round to talking about Ireland.
For the second time in his coaching career he will be preparing an American team to play us in a World Cup. The last time was in 1999 when he was assistant to Jack Clark and the Yanks were hammered 53-8 in Lansdowne Road. You would expect something similar in New Plymouth on 11 September.
“I think Ireland are in a place now where potentially if they click they could do very, very well,” he said. “They haven’t put all the pieces of the jigsaw together yet. I suppose the last game they played – against England– was when they got it to work for them. But – and I don’t want to be seen to be throwing cold water on it – you have to take that in the context that they were playing a team who I believe were not as far down the track as everybody thought when they got to Dublin.
“I always said England were going to go to Dublin looking for a Grand Slam once they beat Wales– with their three home games to follow against France, Italy and Scotland. They were always going to walk into Dublin. Talking to Mike Ford – and I know Mike – he knows they have building to do. He was under no illusions. But the hype about England was that they were back where they’d been in 2003 and Ireland beat them to death in that last game and that gives Ireland something to hold onto.
“But there are a lot of moving parts on a rugby team – as I know better than anybody. One or two them go awry on you and it’s a domino effect. It’ll be interesting to see how they go through August because they have some tough games there.”
The number of warm-up games was a critical issue for him when he was preparing Ireland for the tournament four years ago in France. That’s why they ran with the late arrangement to play Bayonne, where Brian O’Driscoll nearly had his cheekbone broken by an off the ball punch.
“I remember in ’07 we didn’t have enough warm-ups and then we played really badly against Italy and everyone got scared. And I compounded the mistake by not putting a strong team out against Scotland. We lost up there with what effectively was an A team. The rest is history. The tipping point isn’t far away. That was August. If you went back four months we were playing really well so it’s a fine line. But if Ireland get all that right then anything is possible for them.”