The last time the reigning Grand Slam champions dared to beat the All Blacks, they followed up by winning the World Cup within a matter of months, writes
Should history repeat itself, Ireland under Joe Schmidt and Rory Best are on course to achieve in Yokohama what England under Clive Woodward and Martin Johnson achieved in Sydney 15 years ago.
The magnitude of such a statement may demand a second reading, a natural defence mechanism triggered by anything smacking of exaggerated ambition.
It is nothing of the kind, merely one historic interpretation of Saturday night’s blockbuster in D4 as a guide to what may come to pass in the Orient next year.
Real champions, like New Zealand, take it on the chin and, in the immortal words of Jack Dempsey, proceed to “get back up, even when they can’t”.
Muhammad Ali showed the way against Joe Frazier.
‘The Greatest’ lost the first and won the next two. Now that the dust has settled on rugby’s heavyweight equivalent, Ireland have done the same to the All Blacks, scoring unanimous points decisions against the double World Cup winners twice in two years.
Wales have managed it once in 65 years, Scotland not at all. England have had some famous one-off wins, most famously in Wellington when three-quarters of their pack refused to budge during a series of scrums in front of their posts with the other quarter marooned in the sin-bin. Six months later they carried the World Cup home.
Who’s to say now that Japan next year won’t be Irish rugby’s Apollo 11 moment? As for the rocketing public expectation, they seem to have enough hard-nut graduates from the Roy Keane school of hard knocks to keep on the upward spiral.
A performance of controlled fury and such technical precision as to concede just three penalties and three scrums in more than an hour ultimately overwhelmed the best on the planet.
If the All Blacks ultimately proved unable to withstand the intensity, what chance have the rest? That Ireland found the inner fortitude to shrug off the loss of Conor Murray, Dan Leavy and Sean O’Brien and still put them away speaks volumes for the quality of their supporting cast.
Joe Schmidt’s Ireland may or may not be the best team in the world according to World Rugby’s official ranking system, one complex enough to have given Archimedes a sore head. That argument can only be settled beyond doubt at the World Cup.
What matters for now is that the Grand Slammers have given due notice that they intend to settle it on their terms and in their way starting against Scotland in Yokohama on September 22 and finishing back there six weeks later.
Ireland have earned respect
And talking about prophecy, how about Johnny Sexton in a pre-match interview with Channel 4 — “It’s hard to know whether they respect us.
Ultimately you only get the All Blacks’ respect when you beat them.” If they didn’t before, they do now...
Stockdale still climbing Jacob’s Ladder
More than 20 years post-retirement, Rory Underwood still sits on top of the European pile with more Test tries than any one else, 50 in 91 internationals. In one sense the English Lion has now been eclipsed by Jacob Stockdale.
The Ulsterman has needed only 12 months to accomplish something that eluded Underwood in 12 years, tries against the All Blacks and Springboks. The son of a Presbyterian minister who now works as a prison chaplain, Scockdale junior has given rugby its own inspiring version of Jacob’s Ladder.
He has been climbing it so rapidly that he has already scored tries against every major rugby nation except France and Australia.
Their turn will come soon enough.
In engineering the try that made the difference, Stockdale will be aware enough to appreciate how close he came to giving one away at the other end. Kieran Read’s fumble after charging down the wing’s chip spared him any lasting embarrassment but without bruising his self-belief.
Within a matter of minutes Stockdale found the nerve to do the same against an even taller opponent, Brodie Retallick, into an All Black-free zone and score the smartest try of his life.
At 22, the sky’s the limit.
A Dublin favour for Hansen?
Every once in a while, whenever New Zealanders are accused of being bad losers, they tend to offer the same lame explanation: “If that is the case, it must be because we get so little practice.”
In his hour of defeat, Steve Hansen was having none of that sour nonsense. “Firstly I’d like to congratulate Ireland,” he said. “I thought they played outstandingly well.”
New Zealand’s head coach, a top man for all his bluff exterior, did not actually thank Ireland for what they had done but dropped a hefty hint along those lines. “Defeat will help,” he said, a little ominously. “It will be very useful. This team hasn’t suffered much in its tenure over the last three years. We’ll learn from it.”
Should every other contender, spearheaded by that edgy lot on the western edge of Europe, fall by the wayside again in Japan, Hansen will probably point to Saturday as the turning point.
Warburton’s Ireland call
Not content at being the only Lions captain to retire unbeaten after two Test series south of the Equator, Sam ‘Nostradamus’ Warburton would appear to have a future as a soothsayer.
“I said at the start of the autumn that Ireland would beat New Zealand today,” he wrote in a newspaper column on Saturday. “And I’m sticking by that. Why do I think Ireland will win? Because they are so tactically astute. They have very intelligent players to execute their plans as well as a nasty edge when needed.”
Murphy’s Germany come up short
A Welshman with an Irish name and a German grandmother had hoped to be bringing a new sound to the World Cup next year, the ‘Deutschlandlied’.
Alas for Jamie Murphy, Germany failed to make the cut.
Defeat by Canada in Marseilles at the weekend brought the rank outsiders’ bid to a predictably anti-climactic end despite no shortage of heroics from all concerned, Murphy included. A 28-year-old centre from Bridgend, he threw his lot in with Germany last year after one underage appearance for Wales.
Wales face selection dilemma
The rest of a hectic international schedule paled into relative insignificance compared to the Dublin decider but Wales Reserves deserve special mention for the riotous nature of their home win over Tonga. Cardiff’s triple-tiered shrine beside the river Taff had never witnessed anything quite like it.
Tonga’s assortment of players based in England, France, New Zealand, Australia and Wales gave their opponents three early tries for a 24-3 lead. They then scored three of their own in 13 minutes to draw level and promptly ran out of steam.
Wales swept them aside with a flood of biblical proportion, leaving the Tongans swamped by 50 unanswered second-half points and head coach Warren Gatland with two major selection posers ahead of the Springboks next week — Leigh Halfpenny or Liam Williams or Rhys Patchell at full back? Gareth Anscombe or Dan Biggar at stand-off?
Team of the weekend
My team of the weekend (Argentina, Australia, England, France, Italy, New Zealand, Scotland, South Africa, Tonga, Wales also played) —
15 Rob Kearney (Ireland)
14 Keith Earls (Ireland)
13 Garry Ringrose (Ireland)
12 Bundee Aki (Ireland)
11 Jacob Stockdale (Ireland)
10 Johnny Sexton (Ireland)
9 Kieran Marmion (Ireland)
1 Cian Healy (Ireland)
2 Rory Best (Ireland)
3 Tadhg Furlong (Ireland)
4 Devin Toner (Ireland)
5 James Ryan (Ireland)
6 Peter O’Mahony (Ireland)
7 Josh van der Flier (Ireland)
8 CJ Stander (Ireland).