Ireland beat France 24 points to 9, winning their pool group in the Rugby World Cup, 2015. They did it with determination, with grit and with courage in a performance unmatched in the history of Irish sport but is this the most complete Irish team in history? You’d have to suspect it is.
After all, what did they do when they lost the great Paul O’Connell and world-class out-half Jonny Sexton?
Simple. They brought on Iain Henderson in the second row, who somehow managed to raise the intensity of the onslaught against the French, if such a thing was possible, and Ian Madigan who calmly took over the Number 10 role and carried on where Sexton left off before ending the game with a tearful celebration that earned him two million potential new girlfriends in Ireland and the nickname Gazza from his team-mates.
Is there anything not to like about this outfit?
What’s not to like about a rugby team that helps our men to get in touch with their feminine side? Go on, Rob Kearney, you sexy, sexy man, tweeted one male supporter as the Cooley Commando glided over for a nonchalant try, setting Ireland up for decisive victory against les Bleus.
Sadly, we’ve lost Paul O’Connell to a very nasty hamstring injury, we’ve lost Peter O’Mahony, the world’s busiest back-row, to some sort of knee ligament tear and we’ll probably lose Sean O’Brien to a citing after he punched Papé in the abdomen for no obvious reason. Fingers crossed on that. Oh, and we’ve lost Jared Payne due to a broken foot, but what matter? We have a dozen centres fighting to take his place and Rhys Ruddock has already arrived to take up Peter O’Mahony’s back-row duties.
What have we learned from this so-destructive encounter with the French?
Well obviously, we learned that Johnny Foreigner doesn’t like it up him, but apart from that, we’ve laid down a marker. We beat them off the park, to be blunt about it, and if you don’t believe me, that was also Keith Wood’s assessment of it. So there! We beat them off the park. That puts France in their place, but paradoxically, we might be pleased about it since they happen to be New Zealand’s bête noire, Les Grenouilles having dismissed NZ from two previous World Cups and challenged them for the last one, only exiting thanks to one or two questionable refereeing decisions. Les Grenouilles will not fear the sheepshaggers and they might well do a number on them next Saturday.
Naturally, everyone in Ireland will be watching and hoping that France put New Zealand to the sword so that we can dispatch them a second time if we manage to get past the gristle-grinding contest that Argentina will most likely serve up, but nothing is easy from here on and these boys know it.
At the same time, I’ve never seen such a complete Irish squad in all the years of following Irish rugby. Complete in the sense of being well-coached. Complete in the sense of being fit. Complete in the sense of being talented.
But more than any of that, complete in the sense of being one, of being united towards a common goal.
And of course complete in the sense of having the best coach any team could possibly hope for: Joe Schmidt.
I won’t predict anything in this competition, especially not an Irish victory but they have the guts, they have the skill and they have the determination. They have the manager and the strategy. They have the brains. But most of all, they have the sort of pride in the jersey that makes them cry like babies when they win a match and where would you buy that?
Ireland to go all the way.