'Wales are serious World Cup contenders'
August 28, 2013
Adam Jones is integral to any success Wales may have in 2015, according to Andy Irvine © PA Photos
British & Irish Lions tour manager Andy Irvine has tipped Wales to be in with a shout of winning the 2015 Rugby World Cup but said any success is dependent on them keeping their older players in fine fettle over the next couple of years.
Irvine oversaw the successful 2013 Lions series as Warren Gatland's men came away from Australia with a 2-1 victory to their name. In the final Test, Wales coach Gatland picked 10 Welsh players in his starting XV and Irvine feels if that group of players can stick together and stay fit, then Wales have a real shout of winning the 2015 global gathering.
"There is no doubt if you look at the formbook, Wales are serious World Cup contenders," Irvine told Wales Online. "There will be four or five teams in the mix and Wales will be one of the strong favourites. If you look at the last tournament in New Zealand, they were unlucky.
"When you have a huge portion of a Lions Test side from one country, and some great strength in reserve, then Wales are going to challenge the southern hemisphere sides. They are going to be very tough to beat in the Six Nations and it is looking good for the World Cup.
"The main challenge will be to keep that team together because you have players like Adam Jones and Mike Phillips who are in the autumn of their careers. But they are great pros and look after their bodies and all the Welsh boys on tour were exceptional. The personality of the guys was brilliant and they were tremendous role models."
Andy Irvine feels Leigh Halfpenny is key to any forthcoming Welsh success © PA Photos
And for Irvine, he feels star fullback Leigh Halfpenny will be central to any success Wales experience. The 24-year-old was named Player of the Series for his role in the Lions' triumph Down Under and Irvine, who is the Lions' all-time record points scorer, claims the Cardiff Blues man is the best fullback in the world.
"Leigh was just unbelievable in Australia because to go on a tour of that magnitude and produce almost flawless performances was just remarkable," Irvine added. "I don't know if I have ever seen him make a mistake and his work-rate is just unbelievable.
"You could also not meet a quieter more unassuming bloke. Anyone who did not know he was part of the touring squad would have thought he was a schoolboy. But he was phenomenal and the confidence that gives the boys in front of him is immense.
"It is not just what you do in attack, it is what you do in defence as well. What amazes me is that he is not a big bloke, but for his size he does not miss any tackles."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd