The phrase ‘men against boys’ carries with it certain connotations, and not all of them were borne out by performances of the Irish and Australian teams.
Normally it’s all about the physical difference between two teams, how one bunch simply outmuscled the other. That’s not necessarily the context here, although there’s some truth to it. Then there’s the obvious difference in the age profile of the two teams. The average age of the Irish team was almost 28 years of age; that of the Australian team was just over 25. There were six players in the Irish starting line-up over the age of 30, and just two in the Australian team.
Again though, there’s a relevance to the comparison that goes beyond the age profile of the respective teams. It’s about experience, and experiences.
This performance from Ireland had an awful lot of experience in it. Experience of cup rugby, experience of adverse weather conditions, experience of winning knock-out games and experience of having lost too many big games before. The Irish production on the pitch was all about intensity and concentration. It wasn’t a hugely imaginative or outrageously skillful performance, but it was disciplined, extremely hard-working, and very, very fierce.
Performance vs Result
The Mole would argue that Ireland played better against England in the last game of the Six Nations. While Australia were a team very obviously in form – and form is hugely important in a tournament like the World Cup – they are not a great team yet. Nor are England [no – really?]. However, it’s worth remembering that England beat Australia the last couple of times they played them: an away 21-20 victory in June 2010 and a very handsome 35-18 home win in November 2010.
However, while you could argue that the performance against England on the last day of the Six Nations was better, the result against Australia was unarguably the best Ireland have produced in a long, long time. It was a hugely important game, on neutral ground, in the biggest tournament in rugby … and it was a game that the coaching team had been targeting for 18+ months.
As both Brian O’Driscoll and Ronan O’Gara stated in post-match interviews, they had been looking at this game for a long time. To target a game against formidable opponents from that far out, and then to deliver a very big performance exactly when required is a new departure in Irish rugby. It’s an enormous achievement.