Rugby

Matt Dawson Warns Ireland Of 'Tough Year' Ahead As World Cup Favourite

Matt Dawson Warns Ireland Of 'Tough Year' Ahead As World Cup Favourite

World Cup winning scrum half Matt Dawson believes that 2019 is going to be a very tough year for Ireland, due to the added pressure of being labelled as the best team in the world.

Ireland defeated New Zealand for the first time on home soil last weekend, overcoming the world champions on a scoreline of 16-9 at the Aviva Stadium. It topped off a stellar year for Joe Schmidt's side, which also featured a first Six Nations Grand Slam since 2009.

Last weekend's victory over the All Blacks was seen by many as proof that Ireland are currently the top side in world rugby, and prohibitive favourites entering next year's World Cup in Japan.

Speaking on BBC Radio 5, Matt Dawson felt that that added pressure was something unlike Ireland had ever experienced.

I think it's going to be a really tough year for Ireland. There's no question they deserve to be the best team in the world, and I do believe that that they will probably go down to the World Cup still the number one team in the world.

But it's going to be a really tough year, because it's a really different mindset as a team and as an individual that they're going to have to have. Not just talking about on the field, it's the journalists, it's the fans on the street, it's the pats on the back.

It is going to be so easy to lose just that little 1% of focus that you have had naturally beaten into you to get to the position of number one team in the world. It's going to test them in a very different way.

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Dawson certainly knows what he is talking about, having started scrum half for England during their successful 2003 World Cup campaign.

The English began that tournament as the favourites, having won a Grand Slam during that year's Six Nations. They also entered as number one in the world rankings, a feat Ireland could yet emulate if they have a successful build-up to the Autumn tournament.

Joe Schmidt will surely guard against any potential complacency ahead of the tournament, where the minimum requirement will be a first ever semi-final appearance. Their sights are surely set much bigger however, and there has been perhaps no Irish side better placed heading into a World Cup year.

Despite Dawson's warnings about any potential complacency, he is a massive fan of the current Ireland team.

These guys play the game better than anybody in the world at the moment, and that in my opinion is absolute fact...

Of course I want England to win, but if you are going to give me ten quid, I'm going to put it on Ireland because I think they are very very good value for this competition.

SEE ALSO: Joe Schmidt Clarifies When He Will Announce Decision On His Irish Future

Gary Connaughton

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