Perfectly understandable or time to push the panic button?
Like the first time the nation laid eyes on Westlife, there was something eerily familiar that stirred some memories – very few of them good.
“It was the first game of the tournament so they were always going to be rusty”.
“The Americans were pumped up because it was the 10th Anniversary of 9-11”.
“Eddie O’Sullivan had the inside knowledge of the Irish players to make life difficult for us.”
Or they were just crap.
Fittingly – those excuses aren’t dissimilar to the national bird of New Zealand – they just don’t fly. Unless marking 9-11 turned all Americans into Superman and Eddie O’Sullivan knows an ancient voodoo trick that coats the ball with a thick layer of butter whenever an Ireland player attempts to catch it, no excuse more complicated than ‘they played pants’ is needed by way of explanation. Even if the Eagles were pumped up on patriotic sentiment, Ireland are technically superior and should have dealt with them more comfortably and secured the bonus point that would have probably proved to be irrelevant anyway.
What was more worrying for fans of Irish rugby – both the established watchers of the team who’ll never forget the harsh wind blowing into the south terrace of old Lansdowne Road and the more recent band-wagon jumpers – was the parallels between this tournament and what happened four years ago and that was a national embarrassment the like of which we hadn’t seen since Ardal O’Hanlon starred in My Hero. Back then a couple of sub-standard performances were written off as merely blowing away the cobwebs, but the expected improvements never came and the players were packing their bags for home almost before replenishment of the Barrys Tea supply was required.
The long and the short of it is Ireland need to improve against Australia. They don’t need to win – although it would be nice – but a much more threatening, fluid and generally convincing display is in order. The general vibe coming from Down Under is the Aussie media expect their team to win this match and probably by at least a margin of a couple of tries. Our pre-conceived stereotype of the cocksure Aussie tells us that’s pretty much what they think about every game, but it’s more annoying when you can’t really argue with them. The Aussies aren’t quite at full strength, but they’ll be formidable nonetheless.
There are more encouraging parallels with 2007, but we have to go a little further afield for this round of clutching at straws. A pretty average English team looked to be in disarray during the pool stages, but they got it together to make it all the way to the final. This Irish team is without doubt more talented than the Sweet Chariot of 4 years ago. If they can up the performance a couple of gears (about 5 will do it), they’re capable of going deep into the tournament.
Maybe, just maybe, this is the beginning of something special.
Or maybe it’s the beginning of the end. We’ll know soon enough. Lads – we’d be more than happy to have to send over the next batch of Barrys Tea.