With Ireland having failed to progress beyond the World Cup quarterfinals in six attempts, coach Declan Kidney wanted to use an intensive series of four warm-up tests to build confidence and continuity to take to New Zealand.
That plan backfired spectacularly.
Being beaten by Scotland before conceding 26 unanswered points at home in one of two defeats by France and losing to England in Dublin for the first time since 2003 have increased concern that Ireland may fare little better than its diabolical performance at the 2007 World Cup.
At that tournament in France, a deeply divided Irish team struggled to even beat Namibia and Georgia in finishing third in its pool, ending the reign of Eddie O'Sullivan as coach and giving Kidney his opportunity.
Even worse for Ireland from Saturday's loss to England, hard-running open-side flank David Wallace has been ruled out of the World Cup after injuring his knee and dynamic loosehead prop Cian Healy is set to miss the opening game because of an eye complaint.
"We wanted to challenge ourselves against England and France to know exactly where we are, and we know now," Kidney said. "We've lost four in the series, which is extremely disappointing. That's not what we aimed for.
"No excuses to camouflage results - we're here to get results. We'll keep working and we will get better. There is a maxim I like to live by: 'Losers makes excuses, winners make promises.' These players have promised me they will continue to work hard and improve, and that's all you can ask for."
Ireland's opening Pool C match is against the United States on Sept. 11. The team then meets Australia six days later, takes on Russia on Sept. 25, before closing against Italy on Oct. 2 in a match that could determine which team advances as runner-up.
There will be another chapter in what has been a one-sided World Cup rivalry between Ireland and Australia so far. They have met on four occasions with Australia winning each time, albeit through one-point victories in 1991 and 2003 but by 18 points in 1987 and 20 in 1999.
The incentive for Ireland and Australia to win their Sept. 17 clash is the likely prospect of the loser facing defending champion South Africa in the quarterfinals rather than possibly Wales or Samoa.
Despite its terrible recent form, Ireland still holds out some hope of upsetting the Wallabies.
The core of the 2009 squad that won Ireland's first Six Nations Grand Slam in 61 years is still available, almost all of whom either play for reigning European club champion Leinster or perennial powerhouse Munster. The two Irish provinces have together won four of the past six Heineken Cups, signaling a shift in the power base of northern hemisphere club rugby away from England and France.
Ireland also laid down a marker in the final match of this year's Six Nations. Hosting a youthful and resurgent England in search of its first Grand Slam in eight years, the Irish recorded an emphatic 24-8 victory that announced the ascension of flyhalf Jonathan Sexton as the team's newest star.
Sexton has a willingness to stand flatter and take the ball to the gain line as a first option rather than shifting it on or kicking possession away, his 1.89-meter and 92-kilogram dimensions in stark physical contrast to the experienced but diminutive backup, Ronan O'Gara.
The 26-year-old Sexton's influence extends beyond simply knowing when to pass, kick or run.
When Leinster trailed Northampton by 16 points in the Heineken Cup final in May, Sexton gave a rousing half-time speech about achieving the seemingly impossible, referencing one of the great football comebacks when Liverpool rallied from 3-0 down to win the 2005 Champions League final against AC Milan.
He then went out and scored two tries as part of a 28-point haul in a stunning 33-22 win, placing him alongside Australia's Quade Cooper and France's Francois Trinh-Duc as the pre-eminent emerging flyhalves in the world behind peerless All Blacks pivot Dan Carter.
One of Kidney's biggest dilemmas will be deciding Sexton's halves partner. Tomas O'Leary had looked to be the first choice but a failure to recapture his 2009 form before he broke an ankle on the eve of the British and Irish Lions tour has cost him a spot in the squad.
Instead, Eoin Reddan appears to be the front-runner ahead of Isaac Boss, with Conor Murray the third option.
Outside of the halves, Ireland possesses an all-Lions three-quarter line.
Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy form a vastly experienced and well-rounded centre partnership, while Tommy Bowe and Keith Earls bring a mixture of power and invention on the wings, aided by the reliable Rob Kearney at fullback.
In the forwards, Lions captain Paul O'Connell and Donncha O'Callaghan are two willing locks. Stephen Ferris returns from a long-term knee injury and will offer an intimidating physical presence at blindside flank, while Jamie Heaslip is a tireless No. 8 and Wallace's injury will give Sean O'Brien a chance at open-side unless Shane Jennings' abilities as the squad's only natural ball fetcher are preferred.
Ireland's major weaknesses appear to be a lack of front row depth after the first choice of Healy, Rory Best and Mike Ross, a line-out that can misfire under pressure, and a tendency to implode at the World Cup - a record unlikely to be helped by the team's pitiful lead-in results.
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