Rugby World Cup pool matches can generally be described as having two standout characteristics. The first being that each pool usually has but one table-topping decider, and the second being that you can expect at least one Twitter-trending upset in the opening rounds. Ireland look like they accomplished both feats today with a 15-6 win over Australia. By STYLI CHARALAMBOUS.
Going into the World Cup, these two sides had two of the most contradictory set of results possible. Australia had become the darlings of the rugby fraternity, winning the Tri-Nations for the first time in 10 years to follow on from the exciting Queensland Reds team that lifted the Super Rugby trophy. And when the Wallabies accounted for the All Blacks in Brisbane, the low murmur of a possible final between the Tasman rivals grew into a roar from pro-Australia supporters.
Ireland, by contrast, were reeling from a below-average build-up to the tournament proper. A 10-6 loss at the hands of Scotland was followed up by consecutive losses to the French, both home and away. And to round off their fourth consecutive defeat, Ireland succumbed 9-20 to a visiting English team in Dublin. Not exactly the kind of form that would be giving a high-flying Australia team sleepless nights.
Nor did the opening matches of pool C give any indication that an upset could be on the cards. Ireland struggled against minnows USA, failing to collect a four-try bonus point, while Australia finished strongly against Italy. But one thing previous World Cups have shown us is that the only good use for the formbook in the tournament is that it becomes something for the underdogs to hurl at complacent favourites.
Having won 20 of their 29 previous encounters, Australia could also count on previous RWC matches against Ireland as a reason to be confident. Ireland and Australia have a history of close World Cup matches, with Australia finishing on the right side of end result each time. But on Saturday, the men from the Emerald Isle would take to the streets of Auckland with a bellowing last laugh.
Even a depleted Aussie team, without the services of the David Pockock, Digby Ioane and Stephen Moore, all key players, were expected to be too strong for Declan Kidney’s charges. With an opening weekend that failed to produce any upsets, few expected that this encounter would result in anything other than a “W” in Australia’s column.
Photo: Ireland’s Rob Kearney (L) and Paul O’Connell celebrate their win as Australia Wallabies players huddle behind after their Rugby World Cup Pool C match at Eden Park in Auckland September 17, 2011. REUTERS/Nigel Marple
Comeback kid, James O’Connor, opened the scoring with a penalty effort from straight in front before Jonny Sexton responded with three points of his own after 15 minutes. While the Australian pack landed the first blow earning a penalty from the scrum, it was the forward pack of the men in green that grew stronger with each phase of the game, leading to Sexton’s second drop goal in international rugby. O’Connor squared things up to take the teams into the break at 6-6, and the game still finely poised.
The second half belonged to the Irish, and in particular their forwards. The Australian scrum, that seemed to have been rebuilt to withstand international rigours in the last year, resorted to frailties of old. Apparently the rebuilding was done with Polyfilla and not cement. When not going backwards, the front-row was collapsing to offer Sexton more attempts at goal. Only a wayward radar by the fresh-faced pivot kept Australia in the game, missing three of five kicks at goal. And the Genia-Cooper combination almost obliged the Irish place kicking generosity with Cooper’s final pass after a half-break floating out wide.
When veteran Ronan O’Gara kicked a 61st min penalty to lead 12-6, Ireland and the “anyone-but-Aus” crowd of local rugby supporters were sensing the historic upset. With 10mins to go, another collapsed scrum led to a penalty that put the Irish 15-6 ahead and Australia fighting to score and ensure a nervous end to the now rain-affected match. Camped out near the Irish line, the Aussies came within centimetres several times of forcing a score that would keep them in the game. But a Tommy Bowe interception put paid to any Australian revival that saw the game finish out near the Australian goal line, and the beginning of what was sure to be a long night of celebrations in Auckland, for anyone dressed in anything other Australian gold.
With this upset complete and only the prospect of Six-Nations rivals Italy standing in the way of Ireland topping this group, social network Twitter was ablaze with the effects this game would have on the play-off line-ups. There is now a likely chance that South Africa, should they top their group, will meet Australia instead of Ireland in their quarterfinal play-off with the prospect of hosts and tournament favourites New Zealand lurking in the round thereafter. However, if this match has taught us anything, it’s that we shouldn’t look too far ahead and focus too much on the next stage of the tournament, just in case we miss the banana peel right in front of us. DM
Australia: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 James O’Connor, 13 Anthony Fainga’a, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Radike Samo, 7 Ben McCalman, 6 Rocky Elsom, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Dan Vickerman, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Sekope Kepu.
Replacements: 16 Saia Faingaa, 17 James Slipper, 18 Rob Simmons, 19 Wycliff Palu, 20 Scott Higginbotham, 21 Luke Burgess, 22 Drew Mitchell.
Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Brian O’Driscoll (c), 12 Gordon D’Arcy, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Eoin Reddan, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O’Brien, 6 Stephen Ferris, 5 Paul O’Connell, 5 Donncha O’Callaghan, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Tom Court, 18 Donnacha Ryan, 19 Denis Leamy, 20 Conor Murray, 21 Ronan O’Gara, 22 Andrew Trimble.
Bryce Lawrence (New Zealand)
Television match official
Main photo: Ireland’s Stephen Ferris (centre R) tackles Australia Wallabies’ Will Genia (centre L) during their Rugby World Cup Pool C match at Eden Park in Auckland September 17, 2011. REUTERS/Bogdan Cristel
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