Ireland and France have 'a real chance' to win their first ever respective rugby World Cups this year, according to World Cup winning captain with England Martin Johnson.
England are the only northern hemisphere team to have lifted the William Webb Ellis trophy since the first ever Rugby World Cup in 1987. The one and only time they did so was in 2003, when Martin Johnson led his team to victory over hosts Australia, with Jonny Wilkinson's wrong-foot drop goal going down in rugby folklore.
That England team has long been seen as one of the best groups of players the country have ever produced, with Johnson being hailed as one of the game's greatest captains.
However, it is more than just the culmination of players, attitudes and abilities that helped Johnson and his side win the World Cup.
Speaking on Off The Ball, Johnson recalled his pre-match speech, or rather lack of one, before that historic game in Sydney.
"What do you say before a World Cup final?" Johnson asked. "What do you say? 'Oh lads, it's a big game, we better win this one'?
"The only thing I did say the night before the game was to just do what we we do. In games, players, even experienced players, can overplay your hand, try to win the game every time you touch the ball.
"Or you can underplay your hand sometimes and be too cautious and not do things you'd normally do. I said, 'let's do what we do. If it's there, it's there, let's do it. If it's not, don't force it.'
"We'd forced things a little bit in a few games in the World Cup before that. It's a game of rugby. Ultimately, it's a game of rugby played on a rectangle of grass like every other game of rugby you've ever played in.
"The fear of losing a game could sometimes be overriding. I think experience come into it. We didn't play fantastically in the final, far from it, but ultimately we just found a way to win."
France or Ireland for World Cup 2023
Looking ahead to this year's edition of the World Cup in France, Johnson was unsurprising with his top four selections.
"I think in Europe it is Ireland and France, and it has been for two or three years," Johnson said. "You win a series in New Zealand, that's historic.
"So, [Ireland] have a real strong chance to win a World Cup, the same as France. I think France at home could work either way for them. The pressure. It will be inescapable for them at home. It can way heavy.
"New Zealand and South Africa will always be there. Someone was saying to me yesterday that he fancies Australia to make the final because of the draw. I think those top four right now are the better.
"Obviously the draw is weighted quite heavily on one side, so that will be interesting."
However, while there are clear favourites to win a World Cup leading into it, Johnson knows all too well the heartbreak of being knocked out in a quarter final under the most unusual of circumstances.
"There's always a team that comes through and over-performs, and someone under-performs," Johnson said. "Knockout games, literally all that work, it goes down into 80 minutes.
"Everyone can lose in 80 minutes. I mean, I got knocked out by five drop goals one year. Jannie de Beer in '99, five drop goals in the second half. Really? There you are, on the train home on Monday.
"The great thing of the tournament is it is that, knockout games, it's exciting. Everyone is just trying to overachieve, aren't they?"
"Everyone has that ambition to do something, even if it's not realistically winning it for some of them. But then, you never know, you get into knockout rugby and you can find a way to win matches."
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