Ireland showed up in Melbourne and Australia felt the impact. The first test could have gone either way -because for eighty minutes in Brisbane consistently high Australian intensity and aggression kept the Irish on the back foot – but come Melbourne the Wallabies found themselves unable to get close to a repeat.
A few changes in the Irish line-up and the significant presence of Johnny Sexton gave Ireland a level of authority and control that Australia struggled to disrupt. Ireland always look well organised under Joe Schmidt, but extra class in selection made execution that little bit more consistent and natural.
In contrast Australia didn’t move forward from the first test – they didn’t control their penalty count and Ireland kept the scoreboard ticking over. In truth the second test just didn’t look like one that Ireland would lose.
It’s something rather remarkable about this Ireland squad that securing a first Irish series win in the Southern hemisphere since the 1970’s remains probable rather than possible.
And it says a lot about the quality and depth of Irish rugby in 2018 that they can tour Australia and hold back their first-choice selection until the third test.
As the records tumble and barriers are broken, Ireland edge ever closer to Japan next summer. And whilst it’s easy to talk up the difficulties in winning a World Cup – at times it’s hard to see anyone but New Zealand with the capacity to stop them.
In many ways this is the golden generation for Irish rugby. Whilst the Leinster conveyor belt is still producing – the showing of the under-20s in France underlines the fact Irish rugby is soaring at heights that may prove impossible to maintain. Everyone in Irish rugby is aware of the uniqueness of this opportunity.
And that awareness is behind the apparent softening of the IRFU position towards Paddy Jackson. David Nucifora’s reported comments yesterday on the exiled Jackson feel calculated and deliberate to test the water. He’s not someone with a reputation for clumsy comment and his responses have the feeling of the beginning of a slow but steady U-turn. Jackson would not currently be eligible as he plays outside Ireland, but that could all change by the time the World Cup comes around.
I know that some would take the view that such a move by the IRFU would be unforgiveable but that’s simply not true.
Maybe more unforgiveable is the vagueness with which Nucifora approached the question of player training and education. Many weeks after the conclusion of the trial and many months after the beginning of the prosecution process, Nucifora left the impression the IRFU has yet to complete its update of education and training to include modules on the issue of consent. Part of broader education on social responsibility, the “Player Wellbeing Programme” is delivered in partnership with Rugby Players Ireland – in effect the guardians of player ethics – Chaired by current Ireland fullback Rob Kearney.
But on-field things have never been better, and the overall message isn’t just one to the fans of enjoy it while it lasts – it’s a message to the team to make the best of this while you can.
Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go
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