Wow! What an amazing victory for Ireland! I had been saying that the team would be lucky to keep the score respectable. Considering all the factors: how they were playing (ie very poorly), coupled with Australia being Tri-Nations champions, and one of the favourites to win the World Cup, and the fact that Ireland were ranked 8th in the world, to Australia’s 2nd, my prediction seemed pretty accurate. Oh me of little faith! When it really mattered, Ireland were able to knuckle down and put in one of the great performances and obtain one of the greatest upsets of Rugby World Cup history! On a par with Western Samoa beating Wales, in 1991, or more closely to France upsetting New Zealand in both 1999 and 2007. A score for the ages: Ireland 15-6 Australia. Now Ireland just need to remain calm, and not let the victory get to our heads. We’ve seen how well we can do when we’re the underdogs. Now we’re the favourites going into our matches with Italy, and a quarter-final against Wales (poss), and a World Cup semi-final is talked about as being a certainty. Not so. Neither the Italians (who nearly beat us in the 6 Nations), nor Wales (who did beat us, and looked very impressive against South Africa) are pushovers, and we underestimate them at our peril. Hopefully we can take the right approach and let the victory give us a boost and play those matches at our best.
The game panned out very well. I had thought that Ireland would start the game in a panic, try to do too much in the first 10-15 minutes, and then be finished before the 1st quarter had passed. This wasn’t how it happened. Ireland went about matching the Wallabies up front, and kept that up for the whole game. While we didn’t really utilise our back-line very much, more importantly, we snuffed out any attacking play by Australia, who have one of the most potent back-lines in rugby (see the amazing tries they scored in the Tri-Nations, and in their game against Italy). Our dominance was really in the forward’s, and in our defence. The majority of the pack put in a monumental performance. Led in every way by the front row, who were titans. In the second row, Paul O’Connell put in one of his most excetional performances. I hadn’t seen him carry the ball so many times in a single match. More so than in several games combined. Stephen Ferris had one of the most amazing games at blindside flanker. His tackle on the Aussie scrum-half, where he picked up the player and drove him backwards, was the stuff of legend. As my dad said, you could sum up Ireland’s performance in that one moment. Complete and utter dominance, Australia being reduced to mere baggage. Literally man-handled. Sean O’Brien was immense at open-side, after all my talk of him not been suited there. Unfortunately, the one quiet player was Jaimie Heaslip. I could be wrong, but he hardly seemed to feature in the game.
The backs were great as well. Sexton had a horrendous day with the boot (the Aussie kicker O’Conner was off with some of his kicks as well), but he didn’t let this affect him in open play. His passing and tactical kicking was very good. Late in the game, he moved to inside centre, when O’Gara came on as a substitution. It was strange seeing them together, but they seemed to function well as a unit. O’Driscoll started the game looking haggard, but quickly got stuck in, and had one of his vintage performances, tackling his heart out, and charging at the Aussie line. Earls had a good game, another player I didn’t think would do well. Bowe had a quiet enough game, but put in a storming run in, after intecepting the ball, and ran almost 90 metres. Been stopped just before he reached the finish line. This was another pivotal point in the game. It was in the last 10 minutes, where Ireland were leading, but Australia were attacking in the Irish half. I had feelings of deja vu, where Ireland let a good lead slip in the last few minutes of a match. Australia looked like they were about to score, when Bowe upset their plans and they were left chasing his tail.
Ireland’s victory has completely opened up the World Cup. With us now leading our pool, it looks like we will be facing weaker opposition in the quarter-final (well weaker than South Africa). This would leave South Africa facing Australia in their quarter-final. That would mean that at least one of rugby’s giants would be out before the semi-final (South Africa have never lost a quarter-final, while Australia have lost 2, both to England, in 1995 and 2007). Our victory is also important for rugby on another level. For most of the 20th century, and leading into the 21st, there has being a clear gap in the strength of rugby sides in the Southern Hemisphere, as opposed to the Northern Hemisphere. The big 3 SANZAR nations (South Africa, Australia and New Zealand) have completely smothered the countries in Europe, most specifically France, England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. This seemed to change when, in 2003, England won the World Cup. This victory seemed to herald in a new era, where the southern dominance would be slowly eroded, and the other nations would start to rise to the top. This didn’t happen, and the gap almost seemed to get wider. This has hopefully changed now. Wales showed the way, in almost beating South Africa. And we put the marker down by beating the Tri-Nations champions, Australia. The big test is still the All Blacks, of course, but still ourselves and Wales have shown that David can slay Goliath, that the underdogs can triumph. And hopefully this is just the start of the worm-turning. Not to get too carried away.
Coupled with Dublin’s win over Kerry (what a game, and a score 1-12 to 1-11), these 2 matches have really given a sorely needed boost to Irish spirit’s (coincidentally, it had taken Ireland over 30 years to beat Australia down under, and it had taken Dublin over 30 years to beat Kerr in an All-Ireland Final, or match even. And all credit to Kerry supporters and team, they were very gracious in defeat. They’ll be back again. 8 finals in 10 years. Wow!). What a great weekend for sport, sports fans, Dublin fans, and Irish fans.