ALL BLACK AND BLUE There might be a few bumps and bruises along the way, but as long as more people are giving rugby a go, then the Ireland squad has done its job.
So Ireland have beaten the All Blacks again to make it two wins in the last three games. It seems Joe Schmidt’s men are making a habit of doing something that couldn’t be done at all for 100 years. Much as it pains me to say it, there is no team in any sport quite like the All Blacks, and any win against them is hard earned and worth celebrating.
Does this latest win mean Ireland will win the Rugby World Cup in Japan next year? Not necessarily, but had they not won last week, their chances would have been notably worse. The All Blacks are the bench mark, and going into a World Cup without at least being optimistic about your chances against them isn’t ideal.
But there’s a lot of water to wash under bridges between now and next autumn, so I suggest that Irish supporters continue to bask in the warm glow of this victory. In case you’ve forgotten, Ireland were ranked second in the world at the end of 2006 and came home from RWC 2007 with their tails firmly between their legs.
Wins against the All Blacks, regardless of whatever else happens in their career, can define players. And big moments in those wins will stand out, not just to the player, but to anyone who watched. Take Jacob Stockdale; the kid already has a try-scoring record and highlights reel to envy the best Ireland has ever produced. But it will be hard to top that try last week. It reminded me of another international number 11 who had a habit of terrorising Kiwis.
When Australia played New Zealand in the semi finals at RWC 1991, David Campese scored an outrageous try, taking the ball in front of the posts and running diagonally across the All Black defensive line to score in the left hand corner – impressive enough in itself. But the moment that lingers in every Australian rugby supporters’ memory is no doubt his regathering of a chip kick, stepping off both feet before throwing a no-look pass to Tim Horan to score. Campo played 101 tests and scored 64 tries, but will forever be celebrated for that pass against the All Blacks.
Another Wallaby test centurion was George Gregan, who won a World Cup in 1999, captained the Wallabies to the final in 2003 and was part of a team that won the Bledisloe Cup five years in a row. Not many Irish people would remember George’s first game against New Zealand, but ask any Australian who was watching and they’ll remember ‘that tackle’. George had already upended the biggest man on the park earlier in the game but, in the final minute, Jeff Wilson made a break up the right wing to score the match-winning try. Out of nowhere, Gregan hit Wilson as he dived over the line, dislodging the ball, saving the match, and earning himself immortality in one go.
There are obvious benefits to winning a game like that, not least from the psychological perspective for the players themselves. But there are other wider benefits. It had been said after the Six Nations that the Irish rugby team have never had a higher profile. Well, they do now. And there will be kids around the country practising Stockdale’s chip and chase. Some will re-enact Peter O’Mahony’s diving catch and others will just want to tackle everything that moves à la Josh van der Flier.
Kids who might not have played rugby will get interested. Kids who may not have played any sport at all might just decide to have a go. Hey, even a few adults might decide to get out and play touch in the summer time, reliving their own glory days. Sure there might be a few bumps and bruises along the way, but as long as more people are inspired to have a go, then the team has done its job.
A word of warning though, this feeling won’t last forever, you can trust me and every other Australian rugby supporter on that. While I can’t claim much of the credit, the Wallabies won the Bledisloe Cup in three out of the four years that I worked for Australian Rugby back in the early 2000s. But they’ve barely looked like winning the damn thing since. Enjoy this run while it lasts folks, let’s just hope it last until the very end of the World Cup.
> Andrew O’Brien is a chartered physiotherapist and the owner of Wannarun Physiotherapy and Running Clinic at Westport Leisure Park. He can be contacted on 083 1593200 or at www.wannarun.ie.