Brian O'Driscoll believes an improvement in defence has Ireland on-track to make an impact at the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
After finishing second to England in the Six Nations this year, Joe Schmidt's side rounded off 2017 with victories against South Africa, Fiji and Argentina in Dublin.
The victory over the Springboks was particularly impressive, as Ireland ran out 38-3 winners at the Aviva Stadium.
Ireland won their pool at the 2015 World Cup, but came unstuck in the quarter-finals against Argentina as the southern hemisphere dominated in England, and O'Driscoll believes the northern hemisphere may have more of a say in Japan.
O'Driscoll told Omnisport at the HSBC Cape Town 7s: "I think Ireland are in a really good spot at the moment, they're playing with a lot of confidence.
"They've built and evolved a really good attack game. On top of that, what has impressed me most is what Andy Farrell has done with the defence.
"They're happy defending for long periods of time having really good discipline, not giving up many tries, not giving up soft three points. I think it's building well for two years' time."
The legendary former centre added: "I think it's always difficult to understand where the gap is between northern hemisphere and southern hemisphere, other than at a World Cup.
"That said, I do think the northern hemisphere teams are showing really well, particularly the likes of Scotland, England have had some good victories even though they've been testing new combinations out.
"Ireland have been impressive in blooding new players so I do think the northern hemisphere is well positioned.
"But the ultimate barometer is World Cup time and two years ago it was four semi-finalists from the southern hemisphere, hopefully we can shake that up come Japan."
O'Driscoll was taken to the 'Death Zone' as he was put through his paces alongside the England sevens team in South Africa ahead of the World Rugby Sevens Series.
Retired in 2014, the former Ireland star was perhaps not at his best, but has not ruled out taking on the challenge again.
"I'm not completely averse to the possibility of visiting the death zone for a second time," he said.
"My showing first time up was reasonable, now I know what I'm delving into I need to do more training to live longer with those boys. No matter how fit I go I don't think I'm conditioned mentally for physically to stay at that level, I need something to strive for."