When it comes to the World Cup, Brian O'Driscoll can only shrug. From four attempts, the closest the greatest rugby player of his generation got to lifting the Webb Ellis trophy was the quarter-finals. For a man used to mainlining success, his memories of the game's pinnacle are deflating.

"I won the Heineken Cup, the Six Nations and Grand Slam but I'd prefer to be talking to you about winning a World Cup," he says. "Instead, I've played in four World Cups and they all ended in disappointment."

Not least in 2011, when an optimistic Ireland were well beaten by Wales in the last eight in New Zealand.

"That's the one I look back at most often and think what might have been," he reflects.


O'Driscoll will be watching Ireland in Japan with a keen eye. This despite the fact the draw — with a potential meeting with either New Zealand or South Africa in the first game of the knockouts — offers horrible potential for another quarter-final departure.

"Can we get to a semifinal? Absolutely. But the reality is you are going to have to win your pool and then have one of the biggest games of your life against either New Zealand or South Africa. When the pools were announced, you felt it was a great one to be involved in, but it's also the worst quarter-final. It's very exciting.

"To win the competition, you need a huge slice of luck, a deep squad and a belief in yourself. The depth and strength of the Irish team currently is like no other before it. It is a great opportunity for them."