Christmas turkey may never taste better as Ireland's special brew hits right spot
Rewind to the aftermath of that 60-0 beating in Hamilton, and if you’d countenanced Ireland would be missing their two Lions captains, the last two ERC European Players of the Year and two other frontliners, and then, after losing to South Africa, would have to beat Argentina to secure a top-eight ranking, you’d have feared for them. Plenty did, and others had their knives sharpened, but, as the vibes suggested, something special had been brewing in the Irish camp after all.
To have emerged from this November window having blooded four more new caps and scored seven tries with such an inventive, high tempo and potent brand of rugby against the proud Pumas was some achievement.
Along the way they unearthed Ireland’s answer to Shane Williams in Craig Gilroy, despite him being on the bench for Ulster in the Heineken Cup, created another option at full-back in Simon Zebo, unearthed new options across the front-row and real alternatives in the back five, as well as investing in the future against Fiji.
All in all, a good day’s work and a good month at the office, and all to the backdrop of knives being sheathed. For the time being anyway.
This performance had been brewing since the first Monday they came into camp, according to Kidney, and reflecting on the ramifications of the result added: “That’s why I complimented them inside. What they said they’d do, they did. That was the fellas who were in New Zealand. A few younger fellas have come in. They fed into that, and that takes a fair bit of guts then to do that, and to stay positive. It’s difficult in Ireland for everybody at the moment, so to stay positive at these times, hopefully there’s a message too.”
Ireland have moved up to sixth in the IRB rankings, thereby securing that coveted top-eight ranking and with it a second-tier seeding for the World Cup draw on Monday week.
In light of losing by more than 15 points, Argentina dropped below Samoa into ninth, but Wales need to beat Australia next Saturday to stay in the top eight, whereas an Australia win would put Argentina in the top eight at the expense of Wales.
Hence, come next Monday’s draw, Ireland could still end up with, say, New Zealand and either Wales or Argentina in their group at the 2015 tournament, in which case securing a top-eight ranking may be more symbolic than anything.
“That’s a harsh thing to say to me,” joked Kidney, though he did point out that being a second seed as opposed to a third seed usually means a favourable itinerary, as well as having operational benefits such as hotels.
Spring in the step
“But the big thing really, for these fellas, and that’s what we concentrated on, was just playing well, and if you win the match, then everything follows from that.”
The last game of any campaign generally leaves the lasting impression and there’ll be a spring in the step when the squad reassemble for the Six Nations opener against Wales in Cardiff on February 2nd.