Australia came into the World Cup as the form team. They had taken the Tri-Nations and the Super 15. They had a back division that looked likely to score from anywhere. Ireland came in with the worst of form. Losses against France were compounded by a home defeat to the English. They looked like they were in reverse.
But you could look at it another way. Ireland are a side packed with British Lions. With multiple Heineken winners and the most experienced centre pairing in the world. Australia have a pack that has been embarrassed by England and Samoa in the last 12 month. An unpredicatable playmaker and a centre pairing who have played less than 5 times together.
Today the real Ireland turned up. Lion’s captain Paul O’Connell was dominating. The back row attacked and defended and showed they may be the best all round trio in the tournament. Brian O’Driscoll did nothing other than lead by example and Ronan O’Gara kicked the opposition to death…oh and it rained.
Something similar happened with S Africa. Apparently in disarray in the Tri Nations playing the wrong captain, hit by injuries and confused in what should have been defeat to Wales, today they took an ebullient Fiji to the cleaners. By more than 30 points and looked closer to the team of 2007 and 2009 than they have in a very long time.
Both S Africa and Ireland know what they are good at and if they can remember when it matters it will take more than just a team in form to stop them.
We saw a French team start their game with a lack of precision, and an aggressive approach from the Canadians upset them. In the last 15 minutes France showed their efficient side and mastered the game through the late showing of Louis Picamoles, who was consistently outstanding throug this last part and who and gave France to win. This belated discovery of form bodes well for their much anticipated next game against All Blacks. The French team did not do that well during their first 2 matches, managing only to score a lot of tries at the very end of the match. Marc Lievremont has put his team in a position of uncertainty though this is can be positive enough as the All Blacks will have no idea how they’re going to turn out on Saturday. Who will be in the team, who will be key to this game? Its not just the form but the formation that is temporary.
Perhaps the tournament will be won by the team that can stick most consistently to what they are good at. They don’t have to be brilliant they just have to let their class, whatever it is based on, come through and shine….or in Ireland’s case rain.