Declan Kidney, Gert Smal, Les Kiss & Alan Gaffney. All key members of what should be known as Ireland's “brains trust”. With a heavy emphasis on the word “trust”.
I may have predicted a win for Ireland, but I always said I was going with my heart over my head. Believe me, I was a bit lacking in full-blown trust myself when all is said and done.
But one thing I did say, and have done all this calendar year, is that this match in Auckland was always going to be the one on which the coaching staff must be judged because it was the only one that really mattered.
And boy, how they came up trumps.
We all saw the match, but there's three things I want to highlight – the phase of play that led to the winning score, the state of our opposition that day, and just how we got things right.
There were 64 minutes on the clock. We had won the 1st quarter 6-3, lost the 2nd quarter 0-3 and won the 3rd 6-0. We may have been 6pts up at this stage, but everyone knew the danger posed by the Wallaby backline and that in a split-second that scoreline could be turned on its head.
When Will Genia picked up the ball and surged forward into our 22, something Australia had struggled to do all evening, it looked like that was it. But hang on – how did he manage it? We'd been executing the Les Kiss-style “choke tackle” to almost perfection the whole match, and it didn't make much sense that even he could have gotten through so many players the way he did.
But say what you like about Bryce Lawrence - and believe me, after he set up camp in Eoin Reddan's passing lane only to give the scrum against him I had been saying quite a bit – not every ref would have spotted Sekope Kepu's obstruction of Paul O'Connell when he was about to smother Genia. Or at least if they did, they wouldn't have called it.
And just like that, yet another Australian attempt to trouble the scorers was thwarted and with a ROG punt, secure lineout, Sexton bomb and Kearney recover, all of a sudden we were right on their line just needing some stready phases to get it over before Cian Healy knocked it on.
I just realised that the first time I've mentioned the man-of-the-match is in a negative light. I'd better make his the lead photo to compensate, because moments later he plays his part in securing the match.
So it's a scrum to Australia. They've been destroyed here all day, but still, you have to assume they'll at least clear their lines from here. I was already praying we'd secure our ball from the ensuing lineout, while still retaining some hope that Quade Cooper would get a notion to run it out of his own try area and then screw up as he is wont to do.
But the Wallaby front row were simply no match for the Healy-Best-Ross combo. And even at this festival of the best the sport has to offer, there's precious few who would be. For about the fifth time on the night we forced a straight arm penalty from a scrum and this time it was right under the posts. A herculean effort by anyone's standards. That was the ballgame right there.
Now...about Australia. Did they play poorly? Perhaps. But not in defence. They were actually outstanding when they didn't have the ball. And I couldn't let this write up go without also mentioning the world-class tackle in the dying seconds on Tommy Bowe by James O'Connor.
But here's where I think they were lacking, other than in the front row, that is. Much was made about the absence of Pocock and Moore, and in some ways, rightly so.
In other ways, however, it must be noted that rugby is a full-contact sport and to have any hope of succeeding in a tournament like this one, you MUST have above-average options ready to come in at every position on the park, and I reckon Robbie Deans & co have been exposed for having precious little beyond his admittedly world-class first XV.
I mean – every Irish rugby fan knows how big a loss it would be for either of our props to be injured. But then again, we didn't go into this tournament with serious aspirations of winning it.
And of course there's the slogan that adorns my favourite rugby t-shirt : “youth and skill are no match for age and treachery”.
Ours is the oldest squad at the tournament, Australia's is the youngest. Maybe we didn't resort too much to actual treachery, but when you watch over our display you can see nothing but pure focus on the job at hand by pretty much everyone wearing green – an ability that can only come with experience.
So to summarize, we found their weakness and made them pay. Which leads me nicely into our gameplan which was so simple yet so brilliant.
What we saw from our backs in August, ie lateral passing to the wing in the hope that he can somehow cut inside for a gain, was merely the ugly duckling to the beautiful swan that was to emerge in Auckland – a well-thought-out, nigh-on perfectly executed offensive strategy that drove the Wallabies onto the back foot and kept them there.
If you make a clearance kick and it goes straight to Quade Cooper or Kurtley Beale, you'd better watch out. Unless, of course, you put enough height in the kick AND have support runners right in their face when it comes down.
And funnily enough, that's precisely what Beale did to Kearney in the opening stages, and the Aussie full-back seemed to lay down a huge marker by catching it himself right in his opposite number's face.
But although it took us 15 minutes to get some decent possession ourselves, we patiently remained strong on defence and it did us the world of good for Kearney to do the very same thing back to Beale not long afterwards.
They just had no answer to our execution of the garryowen, and whatever about our scrums, that high ball was a goldmine for gaining territory. An absolute masterstroke in every respect that was also cunningly disguised in the build up to this massive encounter.
You'll see my individual player ratings later today on The Rugby Blog, but I'd like to talk about Jonathan Sexton's performance in a bit of detail here.
I was a bit surprised to hear Matt Williams at halftime hone in on his own two missed place kicks while not even mentioning the fact that James O'Connor had also missed two himself.
Sure, Sexton should be doing better. But whatever your provincial allegiance you can't merely rate our outhalf for his placekicking – his part in the offensive strategy was immense and he certainly didn't disappear when shifted to first centre either.
With the Italy match so vital in the pool, and with O'Gara clearly with a lot less to worry about in the placekicking department, I reckon Sexton must start against Russia. Give him a chance to get his mojo back. If it's not happening, then fine, ROG starts against Italy – no harm, that's bound to be a forward scrap anyway and we'd probably out-kick the Italians if Paddy Wallace was doing it!
Allow me catch my breath – a cold shiver went down my spine...
Seriously though...I've read some comments about the need to get a bonus point against the Russians next week. Let me make my position perfectly clear. I couldn't give a flying you-know-what how much we beat Russia or Italy by, so long as we Do beat them.
It's simple maths folks – even if you win all four of your pool games by only 3-0, you have 16 points on the table and NOBODY can catch you. As our wise captain said, there's still two matches to be won, but they merely have to be won. Squad management must be high on the agenda of our brains trust.
And in their brains, I now have almost complete trust. Do you? JLP