Sunday 17 December 2017

Tony Ward: Heroes one and all on greatest day in our rugby history

Paddy Jackson who came of age, was particularly influential. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Paddy Jackson who came of age, was particularly influential. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Tony Ward

Tony Ward

Today all Irish sporting attention focuses on Saint Denis. When John O'Shea leads out our footballers in Paris to take on the Swedes the country will grind to a halt.

Far be it for any other sport to steal the footballers' thunder, yet on Saturday we experienced the greatest day in our rugby history.

First in Manchester at the U-20 World Cup, James Ryan, Max Deegan, Andrew Porter and the rest of this emerging generation set the bar at a new level when beating New Zealand for the first time.

With hardly time to draw breath and absorb what we had just witnessed, the senior side then delivered our most amazing win of all time.

To beat Australia in the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand still tops the lot given its competitive context, but what 14-man Ireland did at Newlands was truly mind blowing.

Opinions vary as to whether CJ Stander deserved a red card for what was at best a reckless and dangerous challenge on Patrick Lambie.

Of course he didn't mean it but on the basis that every player has a duty of care once he takes the field, I side with the officials on this one.

I feel for the highly likeable Munsterised South African, but what he did was dangerous and wrong. . . period.

However what transpired in the hour that followed with Ireland down a man (indeed two at one stage) was exceptional.

Touring South Africa, you experience what this game means to its people post-Apartheid; I can't overstate how massive this win.

For Joe Schmidt's reassembled squad to do what they did took sporting courage to a new level.

Devin Toner got the official nod as man of the match and I am delighted for our John Eales equivalent. He was outstanding and fittingly dedicated this particular memento to his father, who passed away a fortnight ago.

But how do you pick out an outstanding individual from such a mesmeric team performance?

Yes, the Springboks were poor, but to fully comprehend what 14-man Ireland achieved, you have got to draw on the history, tradition and cold, hard statistics of this fixture.

They were heroes one and all.

It is wrong, I know, to single out individuals but once they were reduced to 14 there were leaders in green everywhere.

Jamie Heaslip (as ever), Conor Murray (in particular), Paddy Jackson (who came of age), Jordi Murphy (out of position) and (most surprisingly) Luke Marshall were particularly influential.

Our half-backs were sublime. Aside from kicking away possession in the final minute, Murray's second half performance-was his finest to date while apart from the intercept try conceded to Pieter-Steph du Toit, Jackson looked so comfortable and so composed at this level. Johnny Sexton now has very real competition for the pivotal position going forward.

This was the Test in which to catch the Springboks, yet I didn't think we could break new ground but we did and how. The marker has been laid.

The second Test at Ellis Park can't come quickly enough.

Irish Independent

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