Ireland must stand tall or it'll be a Black day
Having witnessed Ireland's de-railment on Saturday night at the Aviva Stadium, as I drove home I was reminded of the 1970 Lionel Jeffries-directed film version of Edith Nesbit's book, The Railway Children.
That thought first struck me just north of Drogheda.
Remember the fear that gripped the Waterbury children, Bobbie, Phyllis and Peter, when, in the aftermath of a landslide, they realised something terrible was about to happen? With a seemingly unstoppable locomotive thundering towards the dislodged rocks and earth, a catastrophe was imminent.
Cut from that to the here and now, with a powerful, seemingly unstoppable, All Black machine heading this way. Estimated time of impact? Two o'clock on Sunday.
I'm not sure about casting Joe Schmidt, Les Kiss and John Plumtree in the disaster-averting roles played by Jenny Agutter, Sally Thomsett and Gary Warren. For a start I would very much doubt that Messrs Schmidt and Kiss have red petticoats they can wave. Let's hope not.
But let's just hope that Ireland won't be waving a white flag, either. Let's hope, too, that they have something in mind to avert carnage, which will be the outcome if they deliver a performance as abject as that served up against Australia last weekend.
The stark facts are alarming. The Wallabies outscored Ireland by four tries to none. Then alongside that grim truth, look at the results in the three most recent Australia-New Zealand pairings:
August 17 - Australia 29 New Zealand 47 (six tries for the All Blacks).
August 24 - New Zealand 27 (three tries for the All Blacks) Australia 16.
October 19 - New Zealand 41 (four tries for the All Blacks) Australia 33.
In view of what happened to them on Saturday, Ireland dare not allow themselves to be beaten by a landslide score this weekend.
A second successive mauling would be a huge setback.
Yet logic and all statistical evidence condemns them to another defeat. Their record against New Zealand is played 27, lost 26, drawn one, points for 288, points against 788, tries scored 30, tries conceded 103. The last time these sides met – June 23, 2012 in Hamilton – the Kiwis ran in nine tries en route to a 60-0 triumph, Ireland's worst ever Test match defeat.
Optimistic? Me neither. We cannot hide from the simple fact that the All Blacks are better – much better – than Ireland. Indeed, let's face it – at this stage they are better than everybody.
So here's another unpalatable truth; these autumn internationals confirm that the northern hemisphere nations still have a lot of catching up to do if they are to challenge the south's big guns.
Don't be fooled by England having beaten Australia 20-13 at Twickenham. They were lucky, with a couple of errors by Irish referee George Clancy proving crucial.
Last weekend saw England beaten 30-22 by the world's best side. That, coupled with number two-ranked South Africa's 28-0 rout of the Scots at Murrayfield, resulted in the Boks putting a little more clear water between themselves and third-placed England whose autumn programme is now finished.
That being the case, the five-hundredths of a point lead Stuart Lancaster's men have over the fourth-placed Australians now looks very slim indeed. The Wallabies still have dates with Scotland at Murrayfield and France in Paris to come, remember.
With England, Ireland and Scotland losing to New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, it fell to Wales to salvage some semblance of pride for the Home Countries. They did so by beating Argentina 40-6 at the Millennium Stadium. Remarkably, that was the first Welsh win in an autumn international in four seasons; note that they have not beaten the Kiwis, Springboks or Wallabies in 17 attempts.
That result, in tandem with events in Dublin, saw the Celtic cousins swap places, the Welsh climbing to sixth and the Irish dropping to seventh.
In view of this weekend's fixtures – Wales host Tonga on Friday, with Ireland entertaining (I use the word loosely) New Zealand on Sunday – there is no reason to suggest any upward movement by Schmidt's side.
The formidable All Blacks will take to the Aviva Stadium pitch aiming to become the first nation since the advent of professional rugby union to go through a calendar year with a 100 per cent record. Victory on Sunday would be their 14th in 14 Test matches in 2013.
Having topped the world rankings since mid-November 2009, their lead over the second-placed Springboks is up to more than five ranking points.
Any betting against an All Blacks, Springboks, Wallabies one, two, three this time next week?
IRB Top 10 rankings (previous position in brackets): 1st (1) New Zealand 93.81 points; 2nd (2) South Africa 88.77; 3rd (3) England 85.70; 4th (4) Australia, 85.65; 5th (5) France, 81.44; 6th (7) Wales, 80.98; 7th (6) Ireland, 79.33; 8th (8) Samoa, 79.24; 9th (9) Scotland, 76.99; 10th (10) Argentina, 75.23.