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D'Arcy: rise no surprise

TIMING is everything at World Cups. Peak too early in the four-year cycle, and that most crucial of commodities, momentum, is lost; take too long, and a side can find themselves on the plane home before their tournament has even begun.

Ireland have learned this the hard way. Again and again, much-vaunted sides have failed to time their charge and paid the price.

But this might be the year that sorry record is ripped up for good. Declan Kidney's team are arguably the tournament's form team, banishing the memories of the four insipid defeats which formed the warm-up to their campaign.

The displays against Scotland, England and, twice, France may have fostered a mood of despondency, not to say alarm, in the country's fans and media but the players always insisted they would come good once the real rugby began in earnest in New Zealand.

It needed steady nerves as Ireland concentrated on the bigger picture. It was fitness and game time they wanted, not meaningless cosmetic wins.

"Despite the four defeats we were all very much in the one direction and of a single mind," insisted Gordon D'Arcy, who produced a huge game in Dunedin at the weekend in Ireland's vital 36-6 pool win over Italy.

"And if you look at the rugby itself there were patches in all of those four Tests when we were close to where we wanted to be.

"We just needed to stitch them all together in a single performance. Honestly, I still had a good feeling about it at the time. If a team is genuinely going in the right direction everything can just flip in a second and come good for you, it needs just one or two little things to happen.

"There was never any undercurrent when we were going through those defeats. You know instantly in a squad when things aren't functioning, and that was never the case. We were working hard in training and everybody was in it together. They say the devil makes work for idle hands, well there was none of that.



Huge

"We were 80 or 90 per cent there. Everybody had enjoyed good game time and then we hit the pool stages with a bang. The other thing is that we are a pretty experienced group and experience tells you to keep looking forward, not back, and take the positives. It helped having Australia early in the pool as well, that was a huge game to look forward too."

Ireland have been a manifestly happy outfit from the very start in this World Cup, with the scheduling much to their liking. That is in stark contrast to France four years ago, when they were marooned in a miserable hotel on a factory estate in Bordeaux for the best part of four weeks with flying visits to Paris for their two big games against France and Argentina.

Here in New Zealand they struck lucky from the off with a full week's 'acclimatisation' in the mountain resort of Queenstown. After that they embarked on a proper mini tour, something which always produces a sparky response from Ireland sides.

After opening up in New Plymouth against the United States, they enjoyed the buzz and intensity of a huge game against Australia in Auckland before a perfect mini-break at Lake Taupo, leading into a decidedly undemanding game against Russia in Rotorua. Then they were on their travels again, this time to Dunedin, and a big winner-takes-all contest against the Italians. The contrast with the inertia and unhealthy frustration in France could not be greater.

The massive support from the 'Blarney Army' has also played its role in the reversal of fortunes, both from 2007 and their worrying lack of form throughout August, although ironically it brought a rare dilemma in Dunedin after the Italian game.

The World Cup organisers sent them on a lap of honour but Ireland seemed reluctant to milk the adulation.

"The fans have been absolutely phenomenal, a big lift, but to be honest it was something we would have preferred not to do. The biggest way we can show our appreciation is to keep winning on the pitch. They'd much rather see us winning and staying on in the tournament than going around giving them a clap."

It is a view echoed by captain Brian O'Driscoll, one of just three survivors from the last Ireland team to start a World Cup quarter-final and the only player who appeared in the infamous 1999 quarter-final play-off against Argentina when Ireland squandered a lead to lose.

"It's proper cup football now," he said. "Once you enter that situation you have to produce every time you pull on the jersey."