Rugby World Cup: Gordon D’Arcy backs Ireland to shine in group stage

They may not yet hold a candle to the legendary centre partnership of old but Gordon D’Arcy believes Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne have earned their stripes in an Ireland shirt.

There came a time when an Ireland team without Leinster duo Brian O’Driscoll or D’Arcy in the midfield was unthinkable, but neither will be on parade at the World Cup this month.

O’Driscoll retired last year while for D’Arcy a fourth World Cup, at 35 years of age, arguably arrived a year too late after failing to make the cut for Joe Schmidt’s 31-man squad.

Since last autumn Henshaw and New Zealand-born Payne have been centres elect, the former cast as O’Driscoll’s natural successor at No.13 but instead making the inside centre berth his own and the latter more accustomed to playing at full-back with club side Ulster.

On paper it may not have been the most natural fit, but D’Arcy’s given the pair a seal of approval.

“They’ve done very well, they’ve both played in the Six Nations that’s gone by and helped defend the Championship,” said D’Arcy.

“They probably hit peak form in the last game against Scotland when we needed them both to be attacking, they did a lot.

“You’ve also seen their defensive abilities when they played against South Africa last November, so I think they dovetailed really well – that’s what you want to happen with your centres.

“I think it’s just getting the best blokes out on the field, they wanted Jared Payne on the field as a creative player and Robbie probably has a few more physical attributes to play 12 than Jared does.

“I think they’ll mix and match, you can see Jared getting into the first receiver position a bit from his full-back days and Robbie’s played 13 and 15.”

Ireland’s World Cup chances could hinge on their final Pool game against France, with the losers likely to come up against the might of the All Blacks in the quarter-finals.

France have done little to show they’re genuine challengers this year – though much the same was said before Les Bleus they reached the 2011 final – but D’Arcy believes a fully-fit Jonathan Sexton can tip the balance.

“It all comes down to that French game, whether you like it or not that’s the game that’s going to decide the group,” added D’Arcy. “You’ve just got to hope your momentum is going at the right direction at that point.

“France’s form isn’t great but they are the World Cup team, right back to 1999 they are the team that just turns up.

“When you take the Top 14 out of it and they’re there together as a group of players for a long period, they’ve got that ability so switch it on.

“I think leaving Francois Trinh-Duc behind was a mistake, he’s a player you’d just have in your squad. Technically they have four scrum-halves so hopefully that’ll be something that plays in our hand, with Jonny (Sexton) keeping fit hopefully a lot of things will go our way.”

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