IRISH rugby legend Brian O’Driscoll has suggested that Ireland will never be able to challenge the likes of New Zealand unless the country gives up Gaelic football.
O’Driscoll was speaking on Newstalk’s Off the Ball programme last night following the weekend victory over England, as Ireland ended a disappointing Six Nations campaign on a high.
Ireland, currently ranked fourth in the world, entered the tournament full of expectation following victories over New Zealand, Australia and South Africa in the last 12 months.
However defeats to Scotland and Wales in the opening two games scuppered Championship hopes and O’Driscoll believes Ireland are already punching above their weight and will never compete consistently at the top level unless sacrifices are made.
“We are a nation of five-and-a-half, six million people, it’s our fourth choice sport and yet we’re fourth in the world… for us to be a top seed in a pool for a World Cup is absolutely monumental,” said the former Leinster centre.
“[But] we’re not far off peaking out. We really aren’t. Are we ever going to be the consistent level of New Zealand? No we’re not. I just don’t think we are.
“I don’t think fundamentally we have the groundwork done in our players, I don’t think we’ve got the depth of players, I don’t think we’ve the player numbers to be able to facilitate that level of competition, to drive the standards that high.
“And unless we decide to give up other sports, particularly Gaelic football, and pool all those resources into rugby, I don’t think we can ever get to that point.
“We love [rugby] but we’re not obsessed by it.”
While O’Driscoll was perhaps speaking notionally to stress the amount of effort and resources required for a small nation to consistently challenge the likes of New Zealand, is he right in suggesting that Ireland have, or will soon, peak?
Although they have a population four times that of Ireland, O’Driscoll did admit on On the Ball that in Australia, like Ireland, rugby is only the fourth most popular sport – yet they have reached four World Cup finals out of eight, winning two.