Ireland's ambush of Australia a result for the ages
Well that was something wasn't it? Ireland were sensational. Australia were ambushed. Maybe there was something in the air for Saturday's 15-6 upset by the Irish at Eden Park. It certainly felt that way.
To be in Auckland before the match was to witness a sea of green-shirted supporters intent on creating their very own southern hemisphere version of Dublin. There was rain around. The Wallabies had lost their key openside flanker David Pocock to a back injury in the morning and by kick-off they had lost their hooker Stephen Moore to sickness. The stars seemed to be aligning, and the pattern they depicted was that of a shamrock.
Was this Ireland's greatest ever Test victory? As a one-off match, this win could top the lot. Photo: Getty
From the outset there was a fever about the Irishmen. They tore into their vaunted opponents like men possessed. They shut down the space Will Genia and Quade Cooper so love to exploit. The front row got to work on the one area the Australians still haven't fixed.
Paul O'Connell remembered he was the British and Irish Lions captain. Sean O'Brien buzzed everywhere. Steven Ferris was mountainous, at one point picking up Genia and manhandling him 10 metres in a backwards direction. As a statement of Irish intent, it said everything you needed to know.
The jitters surrounded Jonny's Sexton's boot. Despite his first half drop goal, his return of two successful penalties from five attempts made the Irish fans edgy. When he hit the left hand upright in the 50th minute with the last of his efforts, we had to wonder if that was to be his James Hook moment'.
Would it end up defining the night? It nearly ended up in a try for Brian O'Driscoll, but the bounce was too high, and the Wallabies averted the danger.
All the time, Cian Healy, Rory Best and Mike Ross were turning the screw at the scrums. Australia have tried to find a pair of half-decent props for several years and their Tri Nations victory suggested they had managed it. However Ben Alexander had a torrid time and Sekope Kepu won't have enjoyed himself much either.
With a targeted attack, Kidney had gone after the Australians' perceived weakness, and the result was penalties. They came at a critical stage too - with 18 minutes, and then nine minutes left to play, Ronan O'Gara calmly notched up the six points they needed to ensure their opposition had to score twice to win.
As the clock ticked away, the Irish line was under siege. Genia burst forwards, but was met with an Irish wall. The ball was recycled repeatedly without result. With a last throw of the dice, Cooper tried a pass behind his back to release either Beale or Mitchell into the corner for the try but Tommy Bowe read it, intercepted it, and set off for the 95 metre race to the Aussie try line. Only the express pace, and textbook cover tackling of James O'Connor prevented a try to crown the Irish win but the damage was already done.
Not only had Ireland pulled off a sensational victory against the odds, they had denied the Wallabies a bonus point and bust open the World Cup draw.
If Ireland top Pool C, as they should now with Russia and Italy to come, they will most likely avoid defending champions South Africa in the quarter-finals. Providing South Africa win their own Pool -and the Boks seemed to be back to something approaching their best in destroying Fiji - then the two southern hemisphere teams will meet in the last eight.
So the Irish may be able to look forward to a quarter-final against either Wales or Samoa, and then potentially a semi-final against England or France. However there is much rugby to be played and this match alone shows the foolishness of trying to second-guess results, but it's fun to do.
It now means we have the possibility - even probability - that the southern hemisphere superpowers will be clustered in the same section of the knockout stages.
Like I said, there's a long way to travel yet, but it's fun to speculate.
After the game we learned from captain Brian O'Driscoll of the 'inspirational words' spoken by Paul O'Connell on the eve of battle. Stephen Ferris said the big lock forward also had tears in his eyes as he fired his pack shortly before kick-off. Jerry Flannery had handed out the team shirts in an emotional display on Friday.
The crushing disappointment at the hooker's impending departure from New Zealand with a calf injury had struck a chord with his team-mates. Rousing words from non-playing squad men Geordan Murphy and Shane Jennings stirred the blood still further.
So was this Ireland's greatest ever Test victory? As a whole, the Grand Slams of 1948 and 2009 are high on the list, of course. But there has to be an argument to say that as a one-off match, this win tops the lot; a victory over the Tri Nations champions on southern hemisphere soil, in a World Cup.
Let's not forget the painful defeats by Australia by a single point in the tournaments of 1991 and 2003. Difficult as it was so soon after the final whistle, I asked Declan Kidney if he might try to put this result into some kind of historical context:
"I think when you're in the middle of something, it's probably not for you to say. It's a privilege to be working with the lads. I'm sure for the lads it's a privilege to be here," he said.
"Historians will look back and see that we've had a few close calls in the past against Australia, but I think it's maybe for others to decide that. But it's a good reason for a party."
Ever the master of understatement, Kidney's words were turned to deeds across Auckland. If only for one day, the city belonged to Ireland and their euphoric supporters.
A very special day.