There’s no doubting that Ireland’s Rugby World Cup win over Australia on Saturday was a monumental event in Irish sporting history. The first victory over a Southern Hemisphere side in the global competition is the latest in about 6 matches which shower our ‘wonder generation’ of stars in the glory they deserve, and it also has fantastic consequences for the remainder of the competition.
However, is there a danger that Ireland’s sporting media over-stating the win? Today’s Irish Independent, to cite one example, ranked it at the top of a ‘Top-Five Ireland Rugby Wins of All-Time’ list. Our grand slam clinching wins of 2009 and 1948 were second and third, ahead of a win over Australia in Dublin in 2006 and the Five Nations win at Twickenham in 1994. However, in my opinion it doesn’t belong there.
To look at another sport, as an example, the Republic of Ireland’s greatest soccer win, in a World Cup at least, was against Italy at Giants Stadium in 1994. The 1-0 win in our opening group game could have set up a fantastic odyssey in the USA, but it did not, and now that World Cup is a failure. If our rugby stars do not capitalise on the win in Auckland Saturday, then the 2011 Rugby World Cup will also be a failure.
We need this win to be a springboard, and not the finished article: a step in the road, and not the destination. A quarter-final loss to Wales, when we have already proven ourselves to be above their level, would be worse than an insipid defeat to Holland in Orlando in 1994 as it would come in a game where we would rightly be favourites. And that’s before we even consider a potential defeat against Italy. Our media need to realise this, and while we rightly celebrate Saturday’s achievement, we must move on, look forward, and dare to dream of more.
The one thing that does please me in all of this, however, is the reaction of the players. There were scenes of joy following the final whistle, but it was not unbridled. It was controlled, and refined, and in the interviews the players struck the right tone. One even called it ‘the start of our World Cup.’ Ronan O’Gara aside (and his situation is unique), emotions were in check. It was a job done, a column ticked, and there are many more to follow, or so we hope. And dream. And pray. And, just a little, expect.