There’s a bit of a mope to the papers today. Journalists can’t wait to tell us that it’s the end of an era, and that Ireland’s World Cup has ended in failure.
Well, my little hackerinos, nineteen teams’ World Cups will end in failure. Included amongst them are South Africa, England, Argentina and Ireland. Three of those teams won all their group matches, and are now homeward bound, while the French, who managed to get into the quarter-finals on the back of just two wins – and those coming against 15th ranked Japan and 13th ranked Canada – are heading to the semi-finals. So it goes, baby, so it goes.
In order of the results as they took place: South Africa [A] beat Wales [B] by a point; Ireland [C] beat Australia [D]by nine points; Wales beat Ireland by twelve points; Australia beat South Africa by a point. So A>B>C>D>A> B>C>D … [continues ad infinitum]
It’s rugby. It’s not supposed to make sense. Ditto the World Cup. It’s a tournament, played once every four years. There’s a fundamental point in trying to win every tournament you enter, but as before, only one team can do so. Does that make everyone else a failure? It’s a fairly damning thing to brand someone, a failure.
Ireland’s 2007 World Cup? Now that was a failure! Ireland’s 2011 World Cup? Not so much, at least not in the Mole’s eyes. This World Cup has shown that there’s not a huge amount of difference between the top ten teams in the world. We saw yesterday that New Zealand without Dan Carter are a far, far more ordinary outfit than people would have guessed. It’ll take me a fair few viewings to understand how Australia beat South Africa. That was a game littered with poor rugby, poor decision-making and poor performances.
The whole point of playing the matches is to find out who the winner is – maybe a statement too obvious to put down in print, but maybe just a timely reminder. It tells you who the better team is over the course of about two hours on a given day. All the “we’d beat them nine times out of ten” malarkey is a bit pointless. That’s not how it works in sport. There’s too many variables.
As for those damn variables? Ask Francois Steyn or Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe or Big Ted Sheridan or David Wallace about the variables. Four world-class players who would have had their hearts set in helping their team win a World Cup quarter final, but couldn’t even take the field because of injury. It’s a tough life, but they’ll get by.
Are there ‘worse’ teams in the semi-finals than Ireland? Maybe there are – we beat Australia three weeks ago, after all, and they were pretty abject against the Boks again today. Would we beat France? Maybe, maybe not. They looked rubbish in the pool stages, but they looked sharp as a razor against us in August, and they beat us the majority of times we play them. Are New Zealand vulnerable without Dan Carter? Yep. They tried to play around altar boy Colin Slade today while he was on the pitch looking like he’d rather be anywhere else. Could we have beaten Wales on another day? Of course we could have. But we didn’t play them on another day. We played them and got fairly beaten. So it goes.
The ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ and ‘great opportunities lost’ and the gnashing of media teeth, the willingness to pout and throw blame around? Probably no better or worse than the English media’s over-reaction to their far-from-vintage team getting beaten by a team who man-for-man are a better side.
Ireland went out and put in a reasonable enough showing against a Welsh team who performed excellently and deserved to win. We didn’t freeze and get hockeyed off the pitch, as we did in the QFs of 1995 and 2003, when we got absolutely plowed by a French team who knew they needn’t show us any respect. We didn’t get pipped at the line in front of a manic home crowd by a far better team we had just about beaten, as in the loss of 1991.
We didn’t freeze, and we didn’t get shanked in the last minute. We just got beaten fair and square in a match by a better team on the day. That Welsh team turned in the best performance I’ve seen over the quarter-finals, far better than the South African or New Zealand performances. If they’d been wearing bottle-green jerseys or black ones, I doubt we’d be going on about what a great chance we had. The Mole has watched a lot of rugby in his time, and recognises a world-class performance when he sees one. Give the Welsh their due. It’s not about reputation, or winning percentages, or history. It’s about a game of rugby on a given day.
For us, the World Cup is over. There are some things we should learn from it and a good few reasons to look back with satisfaction on how well our team performed. As fans, there’s probably no harm in allowing ourselves to feel a little down about the loss that ended it, but there’s always going to be another tournament around the corner. The players have earned the right to feel however they feel about it. A load of carping from other people – ex-players, journos, common or garden fans like you or me – what’s it really worth? F*ck all, lads, f*ck all!
Roll on the Six Nations!