- Lifestyle & Sports
- 30 Oct 15
Fancied by many to make a serious impact at the Rugby World Cup, Ireland once again made a disappointing exit at the quarter-final stage.
When the end came, it was swift, brutal and merciless. Three-quarters of the way through a ridiculously eventful World Cup quarter-final, it seemed Ireland were on the verge of rising from the dead, having all but climbed out of a 17-0 hole. The momentum hadn’t just shifted, it had been completely turned on its head: Argentina looked shattered, crestfallen, out of ideas.
The crowd was in full voice, the camera kept panning to Paul O’Connell who seemed to be overlooking events like some sort of guardian angel. The Pumas’ body language suggested a toxic combination of fear, hurt, confusion and anger. At 23-20, it looked a case of when rather than if Ireland would overtake our World Cup nemesis. Disillusionment came fast, however, as the recovery crashed to a shuddering halt, Argentina proceeding to put up another 20 unanswered points.
It was a horribly anticlimactic end to a campaign that had seemed to offer the prospect of untold riches. Optimism hadn’t just been confined to these shores: many respected pundits from the other side of the world believed that Ireland could make the final (the All Blacks’ performance the previous night, shredding France to ribbons in a 62-13 bloodbath, confirm that we dodged a bullet there). Instead, we are no closer to the summit than we were in 2003 or 2011. Three Six Nations championships in seven seasons is a mighty achievement, not at all to be sniffed at – but the evidence of this World Cup suggests that the gap between the Northern dinghies and Southern hemisphere dreadnoughts has become a gaping chasm.
England, on their own home turf, were unable to overcome the crippling blow of being tipped by Foul Play to win the whole thing, and limped out dismally in round one. France were an embarrassment, appearing to surrender completely during the second half of that Kiwis encounter, humiliated beyond anything they might have envisioned in their worst nightmares. The Welsh and Scots at least exited with heads held high: Scotland, in particular, excelled themselves in arguably the tournament’s finest match to date, eventually succumbing to the Aussies 35-34, by virtue of a hotly-disputed late penalty. It was a heartbreaking way to exit, but it was also undeniably their finest hour since the turn of the millennium.
It seems that many of us, but most glaringly my good self, were guilty of grossly over-estimating the strength of the European challenge (I’d seen England, Wales and Ireland as live contenders to go all the way). Instead, the final-four line-up speaks for itself. By the time we go to print, you’ll know who has made the final, but in the interests of posterity, I’ll assume Australia have found another gear, to dispatch an Argentina side who may have taken an almighty toll on their physical and emotional energy reserves in the course of slaughtering Ireland by 23 points – a far more impressive feat than squeaking past Scotland by one. But the Wallabies’ time-honoured savvy in high-stakes situations may yet stand to them. The Kiwis are almost-unbackable favourites to win, having just delivered one of the most awe-inspiring performances you could ever hope to witness in any sporting contest anywhere. It is, however, worth bearing in mind just how completely France had thrown in the towel, the résistance being utterly non-existent. The All Blacks also have a time-honoured history of performing like world-beaters in the early-to-middle stages of World Cups, before panicking as soon as they find themselves in a genuinely close contest.
It’s entirely plausible that they will continue to steamroller everything that crosses their path and win the Final 65-3 against whichever unfortunates are put in front of them, but I suspect they may still run into trouble somewhere along the line. I’m surmising that they will have found a way past South Africa, possibly in some comfort, but look for the Aussies to give them an almighty battle in the final.
Back in round-ball land, Bosnia- Herzegovina are now all that stand between Marty’s Army and a place at next summer’s Euro festivities.
It’s a tricky play-off assignment, but there’s no reason to think it should be a prohibitively difficult one. This time four years ago, we got ridiculously lucky, with a very favourable group swiftly followed by a playoff draw which paired us with Estonia. We won the first leg 4-0 away from home, ensuring that the second leg back at the Aviva was a festive occasion completely free of any competitive tension whatsoever.
This time, it’d be daft to expect events to unfold quite so comfortably; most of us would happily settle for a score-draw in the away leg. Bosnia are not an elite force by any stretch of the imagination, and managed to lose at home to Cyprus in the course of this campaign. Against that, we are hardly the finished article either. But the recent win over Germany will have worked wonders for morale, and even the subsequent reverse in Warsaw is unlikely to have dented it massively. Beating the world champions, having already held them to a draw on their own patch, should serve as a reminder that, with hard work and pluck, anything is possible.
Undeterred by such auspicious warning shots, the bookies have actually priced Bosnia as favourites over two legs, a hypothesis that may be worth challenging. The suspensions of Messrs. Walters and O’Shea, added to the possible unavailability of Shane Long for the first leg, won’t make life any easier, but you will always encounter injuries and suspensions and you can’t use them as an excuse. Zenica, here we come...
- Lifestyle & Sports
- 11 Jan 18