The All Blacks’ World Cup mission has heightened with Six Nations giants Ireland and France talking up their tournament chances.
A quirk of the World Cup draw will see the All Blacks likely to face Six Nations champions Ireland or tournament hosts France in the quarterfinals when the global showpiece is played in September and October.
Both were in cocky moods after the completion of the Six Nations on Sunday with Ireland claiming a rare grand slam to hold on to their No 1 world ranking and France finishing strongly in second.
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The Irish say they have plenty of improvement left in them and France maintain they are the team to beat at the World Cup.
Ireland coach Andy Farrell issued an ominous warning to other teams, saying: “I have just been saying to Johnny (Sexton) there is bigger fish to fry than this (Six Nations), so we are on to the World Cup … we are a good side that has nowhere reached its potential.
“I have been saying over the last couple of weeks that is what we are striving to do. We will get a few people back to compete and to train hard.
“You know, everyone is going to get better in the summer when we get to spend a lot more time together, so we expect our side when we get to the first game of the World Cup to be a lot better than what we are now and that is the reality.”
Ireland have never got beyond the quarterfinals of the World Cup and, on the back of a period where they have dominated the All Blacks and now been unbeaten in Europe, the time is ripe for greater success.
France have contested three World Cup finals, losing two to the All Blacks and one to Australia. French coach Fabien Galthie believes they are title contenders this time on the back of an impressive run of home results since the last tournament in Japan.
“I hope that teams are scared of us now. We’re certainly the team to beat,” Galthie told reporters after France disposed of Wales 41-28 in Paris.
“We do have an impressive victory ratio. We’ve only lost once here [in Paris].
“We started the Six Nations in a lacklustre way, we did as well as we could.
“Four victories from five in four Six Nations, we have a success rate of 80% in the Six Nations.
“So it’s very positive, if we have to do a purely factual round-up of things.”
French fullback Thomas Ramos said the players were vowing to turn the pressure of a home tournament into a positive.
“It’s better that there’s enthusiasm than the opposite. I don’t think it scares us,” Ramos told French news agency AFP.
“I think we’re starting to reach a maturity which means we manage to deal with pressure. The enthusiasm will help us be better than the previous World Cup, for example.”
All Blacks coach Ian Foster talked up the Irish and French as the Six Nations concluded.
Foster has been impressed by Six Nations champions Ireland and tournament hosts France, the latter being buoyed by home support.
Foster and his assistants Joe Schmidt and Jason Ryan have spent the past fortnight in Europe, scouting Six Nations fixtures and the All Blacks’ World Cup base in France.
“It looks, to me, they’ve really got one goal in mind this year and that’s to play well later in the year,” Foster told the Breakdown about the young and powerful French team.
“Very passionate country behind them, it’s been amazing how much this country is excited by the World Cup coming up, it’s going to be huge.”