Dublin - Former Ireland captain Keith Wood cannot contemplate whether the 2015 Six Nations champions are the best Irish team to travel to a Rugby World Cup without wondering what might have been.
In 2003, Wood's Ireland were a point away from beating hosts and eventual finalists Australia in a group decider that would have handed them an easier quarter-final than the thrashing that awaited them at the hands of France.
Ireland have still yet to progress beyond the last eight of a World Cup.
"I thought we'd a really good chance in 2003," Wood said with 100 days to go until the 2015 World Cup begins. "I may have been a little bit premature or a little bit naive but I look back on it now and that was my mindset at that time."
Over a decade on, the fearlessly combative hooker sees one major difference with Joe Schmidt's team.
"We've a history of winning, which we didn't in 2003. We'd a history of winning one-off games. Now we've back-to-back championships," said Wood, referring to Ireland's 2014 and 2015 Six Nations' victories.
"I think we've a really good coach, a really good team. It's realistic to think we'll go further than we have before."
While they had not won a championship since 1985 when Wood suffered his near miss, Ireland have won three in the last seven years. Since Schmidt took over in 2013, Ireland have won 14 games and lost four, including 11 wins in their last 12.
A compelling final day aside, Ireland's successful defence was hardly a thing of great beauty, relying on a powerful and accurate game plan to unsettle opponents. The tournament's best defenders, only Scotland scored fewer tries.
Wood, capped 58 times for his country and twice a tourist with the British and Irish Lions, said Ireland cannot afford to go into their shells as much in England and Wales in September, especially in a group he fears will feature a resurgent France.
"People say it's not the most attractive, it doesn't have to be. It's winning and that's fantastic but you need to have that little bit more," said the ex-Harlequins and Munster man, a brand ambassador for MasterCard at this year's World Cup.
"I think if that moves up a notch, we'd become a proper potent threat."
As for who will be crowned champions in Twickenham on October 31, it's not as clear cut as the form book suggests.
"I definitely think we will see the nervy All Blacks again, I don't doubt that for a second. There was nothing short of pure unadulterated luck for them to win the final against France," said Wood, referring to the champions' narrow 2011 win.
"I think New Zealand have to be favourites but it seems to catch them at times in a World Cup, especially up on these islands."