Ireland are in their best ever position to challenge for a World Cup and Six Nations title in the same year, according to former Leinster & Scotland coach Matt Williams.
Ireland get their final preparations for the World Cup underway with the start of the Guinness Six Nations on Saturday. They travel to Cardiff to take on a struggling Wales side, recently reunited with Warren Gatland as head coach.
While the World Number One ranked side are heading to Wales as favourites, Ireland know it will not be easy, as the last time they were victorious in the Principality Stadium was a decade ago.
However, Matt Williams believes that the Irish are heading over there with more than just this match in mind. While many have suggested that Andy Farrell could prioritise World Cup preparations over a Six Nations title, Williams believes that the two go hand in hand.
Speaking on Wednesday Night Rugby, Williams broke down why Farrell cannot afford to not put a premium on winning the Six Nations.
"What Ireland have to find out is they've got to find a way to be resilient and to keep developing and growing," Williams said.
"They did that in November. They didn't attack with the same brilliant fluency in New Zealand, but they found a way. That's what you've got to do at World Cups.
"If you look at the history of World Cups, teams that make the final, there are one or two games along the way that they struggle.
"I just don't subscribe to this thing that it's the Six Nations or the World Cup. You want to be competitive. England won the Six Nations and the World Cup in 2003. They went at it.
"It's a habit of winning, it's fighting, it's going..."
Ireland are better prepared now than in 2019
Ireland were in a similar position four years ago as they are now: the top-ranked team in the world, and looking to win the Grand Slam in a World Cup year.
However, the year ended in familiar disappointment as Joe Schmidt's side's hunt for the Webb Ellis trophy ended at the quarter-finals stage yet again.
With hosts France being the favourites for the Six Nations and the World Cup this year, Ireland will need to overcome Le Bleus in order to live up to their ranking at the start of the year.
Williams believes that, regardless of whether or not Ireland beat France in the Six Nations, they are better prepared to finally get that World Cup quarter final monkey off their back than they have ever been.
"If Ireland lose that game, it is not the end of the world," Williams said. "In the past, Ireland has not prepared well for World Cups.
"Andy Farrell has prepared exceptionally well for this World Cup over the last 12 months. The number of players he's given an opportunity to, the way he's put time and effort into the 'A' teams has been exceptional, and he is reaping those benefits.
"From Saturday on, this is about elite, high-performance competition, week-in, week-out. Andy Farrell and Ireland are in a good place that guarantees nothing.
"But I'll tell you what, they're a lot better placed now than Ireland were in 2019."
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