What did we learn from Sunday’s ups and downs? asks Kristian Ross…
24/11/13. Fifteen men in green were twenty seconds away from a team in All Black. Touching distance of the greatest victory ever seen at Lansdowne Road past or present. Ireland was on it’s feet. New Zealand’s perfect calendar year was about to be obliterated at the final hurdle. 80 minutes had passed. Time had elapsed. Then the world’s greatest did what they do best. Covering ground with grace and ease. Towards the Irish line they went. The ball finds it’s way into Ryan Crotty’s hands…. and the rest is history.
Described as easily the greatest performance ever seen. Ireland were agonisingly off guard just when it mattered most on Sunday afternoon. But what did we learn? We learnt that in the space of just three games that Joe Schmidt has changed the way of thinking amongst the select group of players that wear the green jersey.
I for one have criticised some of the decisions that Schmidt has made when it’s came to selection of the squad. And yes, we should still be picking and nurturing our youth, but for now it has to be said, after the weekend there wasn't much to be said for any ageing player that took to the field at the Aviva. So many aspects of the game were simply faultless.
Where to start? Gordon D’Arcy rolled back the years with some deft running and creative line breaks. Rory Best had the best fifteen minutes of his career until he was very upsettingly taken off due to injury. Sean O’Brien once again proved he was world class. Conor Murray displayed his Lions worth, and was a major threat from the breakdown. Then came Rob Kearney. Injury problems. Criticised by many. Not quite at his best any more. On Sunday afternoon he proved why he is still easily one of the world’s best fullbacks with a display of clear aptitude in every area not to mention a try that will never ever forget. A barnstorming run of eight metres plus and giving Ireland a 19-0 lead.
It was evident where we went wrong though. The fantastic disciplined display from the first half wasn't mirrored in the second period and as penalties went against us, New Zealand took full advantage. Next up was the points tally. Last year saw Ireland play South Africa in the Autumn Internationals, trailing going into the break but not far behind, but like that match in the second half, we failed to register a single point and against the world’s best that was simply there way back into the match. Johnny Sexton will remember that miss for the rest of his life, but sure enough one kick can not take away from the fact Ireland rarely looked threatening if at all in the second period.
Despite this, what we saw was exactly what we wanted. Ireland responded to the critics. The pride was restored. Lansdowne Road lifted off. Grown men sat in the Aviva and were no doubt close to tears as possible the greatest scalp in Irish sporting history was narrowly taken away. From 1 to 23, every single player stepped out and proved to themselves, a nation and every single rugby fan worldwide that Ireland are good enough. That we can challenge. That the next few years may just give us something magical and that every single kick, try, tackle, lineout and scrum is something to look forward to. Remember the 24th of November 2013. The day that we almost beat the All Blacks. But perhaps the day that Irish Rugby may change for better. Less than 70 days until the Six Nations. The future is green. Bring it on.
I'm Kristian. 19. And my mind is filled with rugby shaped thoughts. Supporting Ulster Rugby, Newcastle Falcons and of course the mighty Ireland. Tommy Bowe is the MAN !!!! SUFTUM.