After an impressive rally against Italy in the second half, Ireland guaranteed themselves a quarter-final place, but it took a fair amount of grinding before they finally started to get on top. Selecting O Gara and Murray was the right decision, but it took a while before Ireland got into the rhythm and started releasing the big ball carriers like Ferris and O Brien. BOD finally nailed it with a try in the 47th minute after a great run and offload from Tommy Bowe. Keith Earls celebrated his 24th birthday with two great tries but Bowe was denied a perfectly legal try and an obvious penalty try in the final minutes. In the end, Ireland outclassed Italy in every department, and even though it was a physical, even dirty, performance by Italy, there weren’t any serious injuries. Paul O Connell was withdrawn as a precaution to save his niggling hamstring and Best took a bang on the collarbone, but other than that, all seems well. [Update. I spoke too soon. It looks like Best might have a broken collarbone.]
The line-up of the final eight is interesting.
Ireland meet Wales, probably the toughest of the Six Nations teams, and the winner of that will meet whichever side comes out of the England-France encounter. I have to say, neither of those teams has been particularly impressive. France lost to Tonga yesterday and England were lucky to scrape past Scotland.
On the other side of the draw, Australia meet South Africa while New Zealand come up against Argentina. Now that their talisman Dan Carter has been ruled out of the competition after a bad groin injury, the All Blacks are in disarray, which is a bit strange in many ways. You’d imagine that the supposedly best team in the world wouldn’t be so dependent on one player, even if that man is himself arguably the most complete player in the world. One way or another, New Zealand should come out the winner, but they’ll be bruised and battered after a full-on clash with Argentina. Likewise, whoever gets out of the other southern hemisphere match will be thoroughly softened up.
So how does that work out?
Well, in theory, if we beat Wales, we could meet either France or England in the semi-final.. On current form, neither is a terrifying prospect. Therefore, we could, conceivably find ourselves in the final, against either New Zealand, Australia, Argentina or South Africa. I’ll stick my neck out and predict an Australia-New Zealand semi-final, with Australia winning.
I know it’s a big leap to imagine Ireland in the RWC final, but we’re now two games away from that position. We could be playing Australia for the second time in this tournament.