Nobody saw Ireland’s domination of former world champions South Africa coming on the opening weekend of the Autumn internationals. Of course, the lack of quality play from the Springboks helped but there were a number of things that the Irish did well and a number of players who will be key for them in the coming years. There a few early indicators that come the 2019 World Cup, Ireland could be serious contenders to finally win the trophy.
Ireland by no means dominated the game against South Africa. They were behind on territory and possession, but what they did without the ball was vital for their victory. They made 107 tackles, turned the ball over 14 times and suffered just one clean break. Joe Schmidt demands a lot of his players, but when his gameplan comes togetherm it is fantastic to watch. Jeremy Guscott described the way Ireland approached the breakdown as warrior-like, and that is spot on. If they continue to play with such intensity, even the best will struggle to keep up with them on the pitch.
In the last game of the 2017 Six Nations, Ireland beat the seemingly unbeatable champions England with relative ease. This time last year, they were coming off the back of an historic win over the All Blacks in Chicago, which was followed by a victory over Australia. This means Ireland boast victories over all the teams above them in the world rankings in the last year. Of course, it is hard to look past the losses to both Scotland and Wales, but if they find that consistency they lacked in the Six Nations, they become a difficult team to look past for a Grand Slam. Having shown they can beat the best, what is there to stop them from becoming the benchmark for all teams?
Up and Coming Talent
Schmidt handed an Ireland debut to Bundee Aki and home debuts to Jacob Stockdale and Andrew Conway. These decisions paid off quickly. Aki was a standout player in defence, making 15 tackles, second only to CJ Stander while both Conway and Stockdale got themselves fine tries. While Aki may not be a regular fixture in the Irish midfield once Garry Ringrose returns, it is hard to look past both Conway and Stockdale in terms of Ireland’s starting wingers, particuarly Stockdale who has all the speed, size and ball skills to flourish in a Schmidt team. With many more exciting players still to see, such as Kieran Treadwell in the pack and Joey Carbery yet to feature prominently in the backline, things look bright for Irish rugby.
Ireland have it all in front of them, and if the performance against South Africa indicates anything its that what they have is theirs to lose. It will be exciting to see what the next two internationals bring and what the upcoming Six Nations shows us about the endless potential of this Irish team.