Well, who stopped believing? It’s genuinely hard to not exaggerate, that was an incredible performance. Over the years Ireland have provided many threats at their abilities but few solid shows. Australia in 2011 was followed by that Wales game, earlier that year we hammered England and never again showed the same level of attack. But now Ireland have just beaten the second highest ranked team in the world, and more importantly the best team they will face between now and the world cup. Let’s go.
Ahead of the game, injuries and new combinations were all the buzz. Let’s throw injuries aside now anyway, they’re no longer a concern. Fair enough, the subs took a while to get on the pitch but the like of Rhys Ruddock, Jack McGrath and more proved Ireland don’t need to worry greatly when injuries raise their head. Nobody on that pitch looked out of place or inexperienced. As for new combinations? Well Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne set nothing alight from an attack perspective but they were not exposed once in defence. Henshaw did show great balls to make that kick which ultimately led to Ruddock touching down, just another bit of the Joe Schmidt factor that lets even the most green players be confident enough to risk game changing moves like that.
South Africa beat New Zealand last time out, something that has proven harder and harder to do in recent years for any team. I’m not going to go with the old playground logic of “Ireland beat South Africa, South Africa beat New Zealand, so Ireland are better than New Zealand” but if we do take last November as a putting out the feelers period for Schmidt then we can consider everything from here on out as the real deal. And as the real deal, Ireland are starting to look like world beaters. With ten minutes gone it felt like Ireland had put three tries on the visitors. There was a ferocity to their play that we have just never seen. Paul O’Connell spoke about capitalising on their mistakes, but Ireland went one further and forced them. Handling errors read 6-12 in Ireland’s favour by the end of the game, a far cry from recent years.
Georgia await next week, surely to be greeted by a more experimental side, but likely to suffer Ireland’s wrath much the same as South Africa just have. This team is hungry, and capable. A potent combination in any arena. Nothing is guaranteed, in life or sport, but you can be fully confident that the Schmidt era Ireland have finally reached that point their predecessors have threatened countless times. They’re ready, bring the challenge.
Image courtesy of independent.co.uk