The XV du Trèfle struck a big blow against the Springboks (13-8) on Saturday in Saint-Denis.
Some signs are unmistakable. Asked at a press conference about Ireland’s favorite status after the stunning victory against South Africa (13-8), Saturday September 23 in Saint-Denis, captain Johnny Sexton and coach Andy Farrell all said two rushed to respond. The coach finally had the last word, and if we knew this former fly-half was used to kicking into touch, he didn’t do it half-heartedly. “We are focusing on the next match against Scotland”he carefully dodged.
More than these carefully agreed elements of language, the attitudes on the ground reveal the real state of mind of these Irish people sure of their many strengths. For example, you had to see the electric battery James Lowe exult at each loss of the opposing ball (18, all the same) to be convinced of this. Huddled in their camp in the second half and close to breaking, his teammates struggled in defense. “I appreciated our resilience and the way we managed to maintain the score,” Farrell rejoiced. “We constantly went to the mine, we insisted and insisted again”illustrated third line Ryan Baird.
The Irish effectively disgusted the Springboks in the confrontation zones, recovering several decisive balls. “Simon Easterby [entraîneur de la défense] made them mad!”, laughed the coach. The performance is not small, especially with an opposing pack almost entirely remodeled during the match, with seven forwards on the bench. Their first curtain was only crossed four times by the Springboks, who cannot be blamed for trying. Even with a test conceded – by Cheslin Kolbe, 50th –, Ireland never came down from its cloud. “When a team is in such euphoria, it says a lot about their attitude”Farrell said.
And yet, Ireland is not (yet) running at full capacity
It was necessary at least that to win this “real arm wrestling”, dixit Sexton, rather portrayed by the opposing opener Manie Libbok as a “match from hell”. The level of intensity and commitment has indeed reached heights worthy of a final, and the Irish self-sacrifice despite the narrow final score gives them a good lead as a final winner. Clover, the world’s leading nation in the World Rugby rankings, already started with arguments on the starting line but appears, after three matches, more consistent than any other team. She can hardly hide.
Within this experienced selection, the victorious backbone of the last Six Nations Tournament has been playing together for years and finds itself with its eyes closed. The first two matches against Romania (82-8) and Tonga (59-16), won handily with all the executives, allowed the steamroller to reach its full measure early in the competition. Better, if we are nitpicky, the Irish can still improve on certain areas including touch (12/18 and several munitions lost near the opponent’s line on Saturday), which gives a certain idea of the final potential. “We didn’t manage to put our game together and neither did they”Sexton conceded.
Internally, trust is described by the Bundee Aki Center as “exceptional” and Ireland has rarely looked so strong. “And oWe’re lucky, we didn’t have any injuries in the first three games!”, rejoiced Andy Farrell. With his face marked at his side, veteran Johnny Sexton (38 years old) was stunned by a charge from Damian de Allende (who had already extinguished Garry Ringrose), but his conduct of the game thereafter is sufficient evidence to attest to his good health. The contrast with the other favorites for the world title, including South Africa, deprived of Lukhanyo Am and Malcolm Marx or France, without Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont or Paul Willemse, is glaring.
Vert’s quarter-final ceiling to be broken
Thanks to this victory, the Irish should avoid the Blues in the quarters and are heading towards a clash against New Zealand. The poster is, for the moment, only a speculation, and we should not expect Andy Farrell to comment on the All Blacks. The coach, however, knows how to do it against the Oceanians, beaten twice on their land (32-22 and 23-12) in July 2022, at the beginning of this formidable series now extended to 16 victories in a row.
But the mention of this opponent can also bring Ireland back to the more unfortunate memory of a scathing 14-46 conceded at the same stage of the last World Cup, in Tokyo. It was then the Greens’ seventh elimination in the quarterfinals in nine World Cups, making Ireland the only “Tier 1” nation, with Italy, to have never played in a semi-final. To lift the trophy, hoped for by an entire people massively present in France – there were nearly 50,000 singing at the Stade de France on Saturday – we will have to break this glass ceiling.