If I had written this article directly after Ireland’s outstanding victory against New Zealand I would be saying that anything other than a semi-final finish for this Irish team in the World Cup would be a failure. Unfortunately, New Zealand’s loss to France following that game show that it may be more of a New Zealand problem than an Irish team finally getting it all together.
In the France game, New Zealand looked very much like a team that has been on tour for far too long and while it certainly is the case it does not mean that Ireland were unimpressive in their victory, the opposite is true really.
Ireland tired out this New Zealand team, forcing them to make tackle after tackle and pulling them all over the place. It was hard for New Zealand to hide their exhaustion for much of the game, making them cover every blade of grass on the pitch.
The aspect of the match which was most surprising for many fans is that unlike in pretty much all of Ireland’s victories over New Zealand they did not play a perfect game, they made mistakes and were still able to win. There has been huge improvement in this Irish team since Andy Farrell has come in and look to be as good as they were at their best under Joe Schmidt.
The one concern that I have for this Irish team is will they be able to sustain this level of performance up to the 2023 World Cup which is now just under two years away and you would have to say probable not. Johnny Sexton is still Irelands best Fly-Half at 36 with no one looking next in line, will a 37-year-old Sexton be starting for us in France in 2023? You would have to hope not.
Even saying this, there is still a huge amount of talent in this squad that will just be coming into their primes at the World Cup and other young players will most likely be part of the team.
Of course, all of this talk will be moot as the thing people forget was the previous game between these two sides ended in a World Cup quarter final drubbing in the favour of the All blacks. We have managed to overcome them when there is nothing on the line and the next step is to do it when the pressures on and then we will know if Ireland have turned the tide in this rivalry.