They stand shoulder to shoulder with the All Blacks this morning — win for win, try for try, point for point. Ireland’s golden autumn now promises more, much more than a successful defence of the Six Nations title in the New Year.
Three thunderous weeks as condensed into a tabulated form provides further confirmation of how Europe’s ambitious champions have changed the global landscape and why they occupy territory for so long monopolised by the Big Three.
Based on this month’s unforgettable deeds alone, Ireland stand higher still — a revelation which ought to give Joe Schmidt another tonic in his recovery from a post-match appendix operation.
The impact of a squad reconditioned under their head coach and galvanised by Paul O’Connell can be gauged from an updated indication of current form. Our table calculated under the bonus points system used everywhere except the Six Nations puts Ireland neck and neck with New Zealand.
The All Blacks are top, deservedly so considering they have been 12,000 miles from home. They head the list by virtue of having conceded two fewer tries in three matches (England, Scotland, Wales) than Ireland in theirs (South Africa, Georgia, Australia).
The trick now will be to avoid any contact with the All Blacks until Twickenham on the last day of October next year. To do that, Ireland must make the most of the friendliest pool in the competition by winning it ahead of France.
Finishing second would mean a quarter-final collision with the holders in Cardiff instead of the probability of Argentina in the same stadium 24 hours later. That would come with the guarantee of ensuring the Kiwis are given another wide berth in the semi-finals.
Ireland in the World Cup final? After their recurring failure to find a way beyond the quarter-finals at the seven previous tournaments?
Why not? A lot can happen in 11 minutes, as Wales discovered on Saturday, never mind 11 months but right now there is now denying that Ireland are Europe’s best bet.
Having announced themselves as contenders, they had better get used to the idea...
Whatever you say, say nothing, Mr Kearns
Sometimes it’s better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than open it and remove all doubt. Mark Twain’s acidic observation of human frailty sprang to mind when ex-Wallaby hooker Phil Kearns spouted forth on Ireland’s thunderous reception for their pre-match drills: “They won’t have much to cheer tonight so they may as well cheer them in the warm-up.” As the renowned American author might have said: “I rest my case.”
Mouthy Phillips called to order
Mike Phillips could have done with keeping his mouth shut. As Wales came apart in the final minutes against the All Blacks, their hot-headed substitute scrum-half lost it within earshot of Wayne Barnes.
“It stops now,” the English referee told skipper Sam Warburton. “Or he leaves the field.”
Wales a busted flush as Black power prevails
Wales have been waiting for their Buster Douglas moment against the All Blacks ever since Mike Tyson’s nemesis was a three-year-old kid sharpening his wits in the streets of Columbus, Ohio.
They talked themselves up and backed the bravado by slugging it out for 70 minutes, only to be put away under the Millennium Stadium roof even more ruthlessly than Douglas had put Tyson away under the Tokyo Dome in 1990.
By then, with the air hissing out of 70,000 lead balloons, Wales were looking more like Buster Merrifield, left, the bushy-bearded old geezer better known as Uncle Albert from Only Fools and Horses.
One against the head for Williams
Pundits are put before a television camera or behind a radio microphone for their technical expertise. Asked on BBC Television what was going on in the scrums halfway through the Wales-New Zealand match, ex-All Black lock Ali Williams wore the bemused look of a man who’d just been stumped by a mile.
‘What’s going on in the scrum?,’ he asked rhetorically. ‘You tell me. Who knows what’s going on in the scrum? I don’t.’
And then there was the curious sound of Brian Moore being lost for words. The English Pitbull, never short of bark and bite in his opinions, had to be asked not once or twice but three times for his Wales-New Zealand man of the match nominee.
Eventually Moore came up with Jamie Roberts and while he made some dents in his customary role as a human wrecking ball, it ignored the fact that Wales had lost by some distance.
All Black fly half Beauden Barrett would have been a better choice in recognition of changing the game with a skill and vision.
Much more of this from Barrett and Dan Carter may have to get accustomed to his bit-part role as water boy...
They said what?
“You could run him over with a tractor and he’d still get up and have another go.”
— All Black coach Steve Hansen on the indestructible Richie McCaw.
“England remind me of a PlayStation rugby team. There’s no X-factor and they look over-structured.”
— Ex-All Black head honcho and England forwards’ coach John Mitchell.
“The All Blacks are there for the taking.”
— Wales scrum-half Rhys Webb backed up the words with a try and a standing ovation when injury forced him into a premature exit before the opposition went into overdrive for the most devastating of finishes. In retrospect, perhaps Webb meant the All Blacks were there to be taken on their usual five-try romp around the Millennium Stadium. They have now won all 26 matches since Wales last beat them, more than 60 years ago.
Best XV of the weekend
15. Rob Kearney (Ireland)
14. Tommy Bowe (Ireland)
13. Conrad Smith (New Zealand)
12. Matt Toomua (Australia)
11. Jonny May (England)
10. Johnny Sexton (Ireland)
9. Nick Phipps (Australia)
1. Marcos Ayerza (Argentina)
2. Augustin Creevy (Argentina)
3. Mike Ross (Ireland)
4. Brodie Retallick (New Zealand)
5. Paul O’Connell (Ireland)
6. Peter O’Mahony (Ireland)
7. Blair Cowan (Scotland)
8. Kieran Read (New Zealand).
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