Ireland’s victory over Australia has raised the prospect of a north-south final and that has been greeted with some surprise here in New Zealand
Ireland’s victory over Australia has raised the prospect of a north-south final with the pathways for the two hemispheres distinct, barring at least another upset, and that has been greeted with some surprise here even though only one of the previous six finals, 1995, was an all southern hemisphere affair.
England have contested three finals and France two. What was different about Ireland’s triumph was that it was a rare case of a Six Nations side defeating a Tri Nations rival in the group stage.
Only England, against South Africa in 2003, had managed it before. Australia’s one previous defeat in a pool match had come in 1995, against South Africa in an era when the World Cup started with the hosts taking on the holders, a short tradition that met its end when Wales were given the right to stage the 1999 tournament and considerately plonked a group that did not include another tier one nation.
As an upset, it ranked high. At the end of last week, Australia were regarded here as the main rivals to New Zealand and the New Zealand Rugby Union was being excoriated for not appointing Robbie Deans as coach after the 2007 World Cup debacle, allowing the Wallabies to make their move.
Now there are calls for Deans to resign. Never mind that Australia are the Tri Nations champions, they have lost to Samoa and Ireland either side of that success. Ireland had not performed in the World Cup since their 2003 group meeting with the Wallabies in Melbourne, a match they were unlucky to lose, and a washout in August had left them looking short on confidence.
Perhaps it was the weather, more Dublin than Auckland, or maybe it was the sea of emerald green in the stands that made it feel like Lansdowne Road – sorry, the Aviva Stadium – but this was the real Ireland, scrapping for everything and making a pedigree side yearn for a mongrel or two.\