There is just over three weeks until the Rugby World Cup kicks off in earnest when hosts England face dark horses Fiji on the opening Friday night match at Twickenham.
It's about the time when fans, pundits and anyone whose interested is trying to see who are the contenders to win the Webb Ellis trophy. The No. 1 ranked team and clear favourites New Zealand get most of the attention - but for one World Cup winning coach, it's Ireland who he's looking at.
Unlike in 2007, when it was mostly ambitions from within the country, it's now other onlookers who are saying this about Ireland - just like the winner of that tournament South Africa head coach Jake White. From the Irish Examiner, the current Montpeiller coach said of Ireland's chances:
I think it shows just how much Irish rugby has progressed. They have never been a force — I’m saying that with respect. They have been fantastic but one of the things they probably struggled with is depth.
Once they lost two or three players there was a massive difference with what team they could put on the field. But there is no doubt now the guys who are understudies or fighting for places in the World Cup squad, the sort of midweek players as they would have been in the old days, have definitely taken a step up.
Ireland the world's second best team, and the fourth favourites with a nice draw are in a position to mount a serious title bid for the first time. It's not something that is garnering a huge amount of attention after it happened in seemingly meaningless warm up games, but White is still impressed:
To be rated two in the world is a fantastic achievement. It doesn’t matter how you package it, but they are the second best team in the world and they have beaten teams that they have struggled to win against consistently.
There have been a lot of accolades to Joe Schmidt about what he has done with Irish rugby. I think it is fantastic for Irish rugby to have a guy like that settled in the job and there is no doubt he has added massive value.
The excitement for the tournament ramps up even more.
Picture credit; Paul Thomas / SPORTSFILE