By Will Slattery
The foundation of Ireland’s great victory against Australia was laid in 2009. Cian Healy’s debut against the Aussies in Croke Park was mixed. He rampaged around the pitch in the loose but was badly exposed in the tight by Aussie prop Ben Alexander.
Two years later and Alexander left the pitch after 60 minutes and Healy was man of the match. Healy learned from his mistakes in 2009 and Alexander learned that the Southern Hemisphere media has been blowing smoke up his ass for the last year.
Healy’s performance was him finally matching his robust ball carrying and defence with screw turning efficiency at the scrum. The noises coming out of the Australian rugby media was that they finally had a scrum that could compete with the best. And it did for a while. After dealing with the scrums of their Tri Nation opponents Australia was undone by a scrum that is meant to be Ireland’s greatest weakness.
Rory Best was also excellent but in a strange way. He imposed himself around the fringes as you would expect, but freeing the hands in the tackle like Sonny Bill and giving delicate pop passes while swivelling? That was certainly a welcome surprise.
Mike Ross was as every bit as good as his other two musketeers and almost barrelled over for a try with that arms tucked in/head down style of his. Donnacha O’Callaghan was another who raised his game to an unprecedented level, for once matching O’Connell tackle for tackle and carry for carry.
We always hear about how O’Callaghan is the master of the unseen dirty work but tonight that translated into a tangible and effective performance. Ireland succeeded because they gave Australia’s key men less room than a crowded coffin.
Ireland marshalled Genia around the fringes excellently and Ferris marching him back ten yards will always be an iconic moment. Quade Cooper was fighting a losing battle, getting medium to slow ruck ball and resorting to audacious passes to unlock Ireland’s stubborn and patient defence.
Ireland’s backline was sharper and more assured than at any time since England in the 6 nations but the outhalf debate is open once again. If Sexton continues to kick poorly then O’Gara should start but O’Gara excels as the closer off the bench.
After suffering criticism both just and unjust, this set of players deserves to play Wales in the quarter final. They trust each other and now we’re starting to trust them. What a difference a game makes.