Ireland supremo Brian O’Driscoll believes his side could soon be a major force in world rugby.
O’Driscoll, who yesterday extended his contract with the IRFU unitl 2011, said there was a strong feeling in the squad that they could be serious title contenders for the World Cup in France next year.
The 2005 Triple Crown winners have shown indifferent form this year, twice losing narrowly to New Zealand and once to Australia, but the mercurial outside centre believes they are on track to establish themself as one of the premier teams in world rugby.
The 27-year-old called on his side to show character against the Springboks at Lansdowne Road on Saturday saying he was acutely aware that the visitors were formidable opponents.
“You can’t expect to win matches straight up, you have to realise that if you play well you will win. That’s what it comes down to,” he told the Irish Times.
“South Africa won’t come here and lie down, allowing us to take over. We have to play well against these sides. They will be confident coming over here as well.
“The inferiority complex against the southern hemisphere is something we’re trying to put behind us. Whether it’s dead and buried yet we’ll soon see.”
O’Driscoll recalled Jake White’s comments on the Boks 2004 tour that only three Irish players were good enough to make his squad and added that he was reluctant to read to much into pre-match billing as favourites.
“Jake has been very complimentary this week, which is lovely of him. We like to think we’re at a stage now when we don’t need anything to motivate us,” he said.
“The opportunity to win a Test match at Lansdowne Road is enough of a carrot for us.
“South Africa will probably try to push us into the favourites tag but let’s not forget they beat New Zealand and Australia in their last two matches.”
O’Driscoll said there was a collective belief in the current squad that they could win the big games and added a lack of opportunism in recent matches was the only thing restricting Ireland from reaching their full potential.
“There has always been a core of guys who believed they could win those big games, but now there are more guys who believe it,” he said.
“It’s when you get that total belief from one to 15 that you do it more consistently and that’s what we need to do – we need to beat these big sides more consistently if we’re to do it in a World Cup.
“The fact we pushed the Kiwis so close twice – one of those games was there for the taking – encourages us to go the extra yard and do whatever it takes to close out the game.
“Only through experience do sides like Ireland find out how to win. We’re getting closer and closer to where we want to be.”