Sunday 22 April 2018

Spectacular Ireland can and will conquer World

Sean Diffley

Ireland, as I confidently (rashly?) predicted in this widely read and highly respected column on the eve of Leinster's semi-final Heineken Cup affair with Toulouse, can win the World Cup.

Can win the World Cup? Will win?

The dictionary isn't very helpful. 'Can,' it affirms, is 'Ability, skill or fitness to perform a task' and 'Will,' we read, is "to express probability or expectation."

Anyway, we don't need dictionaries to examine the facts that Leinster are champions of the northern hemisphere and that an infusion of some red-blooded Munstermen and a few from Ulster will have a powerful Irish concourse traversing the Pacific Ocean this autumn.

That all four Irish provinces have qualified for the next Heineken Cup competition is an indication that the game is not alone stronger here than ever before, but stronger than in most other rugby playing regions.

And it has brought a change of heart, or minds, among those close favourites of mine, the Pontificating Pundits.

Heretofore many of those genial gents have been extolling the brilliance of everything south of the equator, but following Leinster's extraordinary eclipse of Northampton, we have been regaled by something like the change of heart by Paul on the road to Damascus.

Now, we learn, Leinster's display in the historic Cardiff final was a display superior to anything, anywhere else, ever.

Those of us of an ancient generation who have seen it all and experienced the great vagaries of sport, know it's nearly as irrational as politics.

Think about the New Zealand All Blacks, for instance, who won the first World Cup on their home heath in 1987 and have never won since.

Then, remember that 1991 quarter-final in Lansdowne Road where Rob Saunders should have buried the ball high in the West Stand and instead, with only seconds to go, Australia, regained possession, scored for a 19-18 win before going on to win that tournament, beating England at Twickenham.

And the England victory in 2003, 20-17 against Australia after extra-time. A try from full-back Jason Robinson and the rest to Jonny Wilkinson, four penalty goals and that famous drop-goal.

One of the strangest aspects of Leinster's performances, for reasons nobody has explained, is that they can produce some awfully poor play and then, intersperse that with such magnificent displays such as the second half against Northampton.

In a sense, they would remind you of a high-flying acrobat in a circus, lucky enough to have a safety net when things go wrong. Needless to say, there will be no safety nets in the coming World Cup.

But that prediction, more confident than rash, I stand over. Will any of the other nations in New Zealand bring any more talented and spectacular players than out-halves like Jonny Sexton and Ronan O'Gara.

Or speedsters of the quality of Tommy Bowe, Andrew Trimble and Keith Earls and midfielders O'Driscoll, D'Arcy, McFadden, back-rows Sean O'Brien, Jamie Heaslip, second-row Paul O'Connell and the proven front-row.

I rest my case.

Irish Independent

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