With four wins from four in their pool, including an impressive victory over South Africa, Ireland coach Andy Farrell said his team would ‘have a spring in their step’ for their quarter-final with three-time champions New Zealand.
Ireland are probably in the best position they have ever been to break through the glass ceiling and reach the Rugby World Cup semi-finals after a ruthless 36-14 demolition of Scotland on Saturday.
With four wins from four in their pool, including an impressive 13-8 victory over defending champions South Africa, head coach Andy Farrell said his team would “have a spring in their step” for Saturday’s quarter-final with three-time champions New Zealand.
AFP Sport picks out three things to justify this bouncy Irish feeling:
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) October 7, 2023
All systems go to dominate the sport
“The way Irish rugby is set up, they could dominate world rugby for five or 10 years,” said Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend following the chastening defeat.
Some might claim Townsend was talking up his opponents to take the spotlight away from his second successive failure to guide the Scots to the knockout stages.
However, Townsend, like a good lawyer, backed it up with a sound argument.
“They are the number one team in the world and their pro rugby system is very strong and they have got an age group system that’s very strong,” he said.
Whether this prophecy has legs will get its first test at the Stade de France against an All Blacks side that is gunning for the Irish after going down to a historic home series defeat last year.
Farrell, who has guided the Irish to a national record run of 17 Test victories is – outwardly at least – extremely good at keeping a sense of perspective.
The 48-year-old Englishman said he and the players did not look that far ahead.
“We just go from day to day and have a realisation of where we’re at and being honest with our feedback and how we treat each other,” he said.
“We strive to try and improve each other on a daily basis, and I know that sounds cliché or a little bit boring, but it’s fact.”
Gibson-Park wings it
Ireland’s New Zealand-born scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park will line up, he hopes, at his usual position against his compatriots next Saturday but his star turn at wing against Scotland certainly turned heads.
The 31-year-old was asked to move there for the second half as wing James Lowe was unable to return due to an eye injury.
Gibson-Park may be lighter of frame and shorter in stature than Lowe but he performed so well he ended up with man of the match honours.
He exemplified how Farrell and his coaching staff have developed the players by encouraging them to experiment in training – in the Six Nations win over the Scots last season grizzled prop Cian Healy ended up having to play hooker due to injuries during the game.
Gibson-Park, a less ebullient character than fellow Kiwi Lowe, played down his contribution.
“I felt like a fish out of water at one stage but we do a fair bit of work on covering positions in scenarios like that,” he said modestly.
‘Bonkers’ crowd support
From singing along to the “Fields of Athenry” to the mundane “Ole Ole”, to roaring out the Cranberries’ “Zombie”, the Irish fans at the Stade de France have made it as much home as it is to the French.
The impact on the team of the support from the tens of thousands of fans who have piled into the stadium for match after match cannot be overstated, and it could be invaluable against the All Blacks.
Back in Ireland too the support has, according to Farrell, “been bonkers” with a reported two million tuning into TV coverage of the Scotland match.
“We play for them, we talk about it every week. I talked about it before the game today in the dressing room, it means more than what people think, 100 percent,” said Farrell.
Farrell even joined in singing at the final whistle, although the Englishman said that was aimed at his wife and two daughters who were in the stands.