Ireland have never reached a Rugby World Cup semi-final but former captain Keith Wood believes they can win the trophy if they beat France in their final pool match.
The Irish have gained maximum points in both their games and look set to enter their October 11 showdown at Cardiff with France undefeated.
Barring huge upsets, the loser of the contest will get a fearsome quarter final clash against defending champions New Zealand who are storming to first place in Pool C. The winner would likely get an easier task against Argentina.
However, 2001 World Player of the Year Wood – who bowed out of Test rugby with a 2003 quarter-final loss to France – said the Irish under coach Joe Schmidt have the quality to make a big impact on the tournament.
New Zealander Schmidt has in just two years turned Ireland from a demoralised unit into the winners of two successive Six Nations titles with notable wins over southern hemisphere giants Australia and South Africa.
“I think this competition is all about the game with France,” said Wood.
“If they win they play Argentina which is an incredibly tough game and if they lose it is the All Blacks, and they are no slouch either.
“However, we know which of those opponents will be the hardest.
“Can they (the Irish) get to the semis? Yes they can. Can Ireland win the World Cup? Yes they can.
Wood said Schmidt has lifted the pressure off players better than previous Ireland coaches.
“We’ve had steel in the past (at the World Cup) and some things have worked for us and some haven’t,” said Wood, who highlighted Ireland’s campaign in 2003, his finale. “Maybe we could have done more and didn’t and is something that I regret.”
“I like the fact there is a sense of thoroughness to Joe Schmidt.
“His attention to detail, his willingness to dissect things to the smallest part to try and get things right.”