Ireland’s impressive win over New Zealand blows the World Cup open for England, South Africa and the rest

Throw in a bullish, steely-eyed confidence around their increasingly impressive coaching team and there is more than a whiff of Sir Clive Woodward’s 2003 World Cup winning England squad about Ireland

Sam Peters
Sunday 18 November 2018 15:08
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Ireland dominated at the Aviva Stadium
Ireland dominated at the Aviva Stadium

It is less than three months since the preposterously one-eyed New Zealand Herald ran a front-page headline exclaiming “Just give us the World Cup now” after the All Blacks latest trouncing of Australia.

Glossing over the fact the current Wallaby team is one of the worst in living memory, and the World Cup was still more than a year away, their friends across the Tasman Sea sought to do what they do best (and worst) and got completely and utterly carried away.

On Saturday night in Dublin, the cheerleaders’ cheer was strangely muted. Because, whisper it, but it’s on. And even New Zealand must know it. Ireland’s thoroughly deserved and impassioned win over New Zealand, their second in two years let us not forget, blew next year’s World Cup well and truly open.

Jacob Stockdale’s try proved the difference between the sides on paper but Ireland were in control of the game for large periods and richly deserved the 16-9 victory as the world’s No2 ranked team toppled the No1 team yet again.

With a Grand Slam, first tour win away in Australia, two wins in two years over the All Blacks and a team jam-packed full of Leinster’s all-conquering provincial team, this Ireland team is going places.

Throw in a bullish, steely-eyed confidence around their increasingly impressive coaching team and there is more than a whiff of Sir Clive Woodward’s 2003 World Cup winning England squad about the current Ireland set up.

In some ways, they have the potential to be even better.

Joe Schmidt’s men deserve all the praise they receive for their latest win over Steve Hansen’s increasingly tired-looking All Black outfit, some of whom looked out of their feet by the end of a loss built on another brick-wall Irish defensive display, masterminded by former England coach Andy Farrell.

The 22-year-old Stockdale, with 12 tries in 14 international appearances, has emerged as a force of nature on Ireland’s left wing while Bundi Aki, Ireland’s New Zealand born centre of Samoan descent, made New Zealand assistant coach Ian Foster’s mildly sinister pre-match quip that he “looks like an Irishman now” appear even more thick-headed and ill-judged than it did at the time.

Ireland’s pack was simply magnificent. Led by the towering presence of James Ryan in the second row and powered by a high-quality and combative back row of Josh Van der Flier, Peter O’Mahony and CJ Stander, the Irish set-piece stood up to everything New Zealand could throw at it with second row Devin Toner justifying his selection ahead of Iain Henderson.

Rory Best carries the ball into contact in midfield

Up in the Aviva Stadium stands the injured quartet of Dan Leavy, Sean O’Brien and Conor Murray watched their inspired team-mates make history on Irish soil. This current Irish squad has deep reserves to draw on.

Johnny Sexton must surely now rank as the greatest Irish No10 of all time with his latest contribution to a titanic victory over the world champions. If his displays for the British and Irish Lions last season put him at least in the same frame as his New Zealand counterpart Beauden Barrett in some people’s eyes, surely Saturday night’s performance will enhanced his standing further.

On this sort of form, there is not a playmaker in the world Irish fans would swap for the steely-eyed Leinster playmaker for. Sexton is every bit as good as Barrett.

New Zealand’s players and management were gracious and impressively humble in defeat on Saturday. Hansen credited Ireland’s team and coaching staff while the All Black players conducted themselves impressively on and off the field in the face of a bitter defeat. None of the cheap shots, high hits or general nonsense we witnessed in Dublin in November 2016 when the All Blacks reacted disgracefully to their earlier defeat in Chicago.

But they will be worried. Seriously worried. They now know, if they didn’t before, that in Ireland they have a serious contender to the World Cup crown while Wales, South Africa and even England will have pricked up their ears at the latest dent inflicted on All Black armour.

The World Cup in Japan next year is wide open. New Zealand are beatable. That is a statement of the obvious. England should have done it last week. Ireland saw the job through this week.

New Zealand remain favourites for the World Cup but they have much thinking to do and it is Schmidt’s squad who have stolen a march on their more vaunted opponents.

Who would bet against the next time these two teams meet being in next year’s World Cup final in Yokohama on 2 November? As it stands, it would an impossible game to call.

Hand over the World Cup now? Get over yourselves boys and girls. It’s time for a bit of silent and sombre reflection for the men in black and those who seek to inflate them beyond their true status.

New Zealand are good, but they are not that good.

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