herald

Sunday 4 December 2016

Ireland look to go up gears again as old worries appear

Phillipe Saint Andre
Phillipe Saint Andre

Can Ireland do what France have routinely done at World Cups?

Can they take the giant-sized leap from passive to manic aggressive within the rush of seven days?

Typically, no matter the positivity taken from back-to-back Six Nations, the old doubts have crept increasingly into the consciousness of a public reared, at least since 1987, on self-inflicted falls from grace.

Ireland have never done at the Word Cup what they have done in the last two Six Nations.

Whether Ireland have travelled in hope or expectation, the outcome has always been the same.

The quarter-final has been a barrier too steely to melt.

REMINDER

Now, the fallout from England's annihilation by Australia, the winning without hitting third gear by New Zealand and the reaction of South Africa to the disgrace visited upon Heyneke Meyer by Japan have all delivered a tired reminder.

The southern hemisphere, or SANZAR, three have moved to the front of the queue to raise the William Webb Ellis Trophy.

In fact, the next best has been Argentina, the quick learners of The Rugby Championship.

The South Americans have stretched their outlook from 'macho men' to something more cerebral with Juan Hernandez the hub of a wide-ranging game plan that includes more offloads than an outlet store.

While Ireland originally greeted their draw with smiling disbelief, the set of pool games perfectly set-up for Joe Schmidt to ramp up the physical intensity with every week.

The practical truth is that the quarter-final will present a formidable foe in the guise of either a country they have never beaten or one which is never beaten until the final whistle.

The northern hemisphere challenge has been reduced to Wales, Ireland, Scotland and France, now that the hosts have been muted, making the competition hand-to-mouth poorer for the interventions of Warren Gatland and Michael Cheika.

Say what you want about England, they unified the global game in the back-slapping delight taken by all from watching their demise to Wales and Australia.

What now? Who do we root against? We have no one left for whom to hold the same natural antipathy.

There is the cuddly, controversial Gatland, the incompetent Philippe Saint-Andre (pictured), the put-you-to-sleep dullness of Steve Hansen.

There is also the entirely excitable and likeable South African coach Meyer and Cheika, the man Leinster made as much as he made them.

But, that's all just jolly-japes.

Remove England and all that is left to knot the stomach is what Ireland can do.

We are alone with ourselves.

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