THE Irish rugby team are ranked number one in the world. Did we ever think we would see the day?
Irrespective of how this ranking system works and how it is calculated, this is one hell of an achievement and one that the IRFU and Joe Schmidt should be incredibly proud of.
I can’t see us remaining there for long, but let us enjoy it while it lasts.
Anyhow, back to more pressing issues and the victory that was ground out on Saturday.
It was an important result for confidence. Unquestionably it is the English tie that these warm-up games will be remembered for and the one that Ireland will have learned the most from.
On Saturday, Ireland reverted to rugby that you could only describe as boring and safe. It is a brand that Joe Schmidt has become renowned for.
There is absolutely zero chance of us winning a World Cup with it, but it was needed on this occasion and it delivered the required result.
In order to win a World Cup in any sport, you must be prepared to roll the dice from time to time and at this point in Schmidt’s reign, it seems highly unlikely that he will change.
I’m sure we will see a few new tricks, but overall, Ireland will continue with the same kind of grinding play that can easily be disrupted by teams who can match them physically.
The first half of Saturday’s game began with the visitors dominating the possession stats. Wales probably overcooked a few of their plays and this combined with some very uncharacteristic handling errors allowed Ireland to keep them at bay.
Against the run of play, Rob Kearny managed to cross the whitewash.
After what was Schmidt’s last half-time team talk in the Aviva, Ireland returned with one instruction — to hold on to the ball no matter what.
Conor Murray regressed to the one-out runner game-plan where he used his forwards and Bundee Aki to inch forward.
Gatland said after: “Ireland went back to what they are traditionally good at, you know, I think 85% of that second half was just off nine, off nine, off nine and then Bundee Aki was also effective in gain line stuff.”
This was basically his polite way of saying that Ireland are unable to play an expansive game.
It was great to see Sexton back on the field for 60 minutes but some of his passing was way off. Kearney and Henshaw saved his blushes after one was intercepted by Dan Bigger. That act of determination is exactly what was missing in Twickenham a few weeks ago.
Upfront, where it matters most, James Ryan took another step closer to becoming Ireland’s next long term captain with a Man of the Match performance and the dynamism displayed by substitute Dave Kilcoyne was a big talking point.
I still can’t see how Jean Kleyn is a better player than Devin Toner albeit, he did make 10 telling tackles in the first half when each and every one of them were needed.
Next Wednesday this Irish squad will take off from Dublin Airport as the best team in the world.
I guess it’s very easy for me to sit here and predict that Ireland will not win this World Cup. The unwillingness to play an exciting brand of rugby, combined with our historical incapacity to make it beyond the quarter-finals is suggesting an all too familiar ending for us.
Assuming we make it out of our pool it will be either South Africa or the All-Blacks that we will meet and that will probably be the end of the road.
I apologise to anyone who thinks I am being negative before the competition even starts, but I am only giving my opinion and I would be delighted if I was completely wrong.
The odds of winning the Euro Millions are 1 in 139,838,160 and it has been won in Ireland on 14 occasions since 2004, so nothing is impossible.
Time will tell, but I can guarantee you that in order to be presented with a gold medal on November 2 in Yokohama City you will need a squad that is teak-tough from one to 31 and beyond, a set of decision-makers that are performing at the peak of their game, a coach that is capable of changing game plans to suit the opposition and that bit of luck that befell the 14 Euro Millions lotto winners on this island.
I am not going to thank Rory Best and Joe Schmidt for their incredible efforts because their journey with the green jersey is still ongoing. When they are gone we can all pay homage to two splendid individuals who have helped us reach pastures once deemed unattainable.
Safe travels to all the squad and to all those who are lucky enough to be supporting. We live and hope.