Niall Crozier: Ireland just not up to it
Another World Cup quarter-final defeat for Ireland, but this was more painful than the others.
This time the expectations were higher and justifiably so, for after a dreadful build-up campaign and a shaky start against the USA, Ireland came good to win their pool, the first time they had ever done so.
En route to that they had claimed a prized southern hemisphere scalp, which was another first.
Having done so, they were then pitted against opponents they had beaten in nine of their previous 12 meetings.
They never had a better chance.
It is those circumstances which make defeat harder to take and the sense of disappointment greater.
The sense of frustration is heightened by the unpalatable truth that Ireland remain the only major rugby playing nation never to have reached the World Cup semi-finals.
It also means the golden generation of O’s – O’Driscoll, O’Gara, O’Connell, O’Callaghan – also failed to make it to a higher rung on the global ladder.
So ignore, for a moment, the fact that Ireland beating Australia in achieving top spot in Pool C and ask yourself this question: does elimination at the quarter-final stage translate as success or failure?
The players’ pre-tournament goal was to scale heights hitherto out of bounds for Irish players.
Did they do it? No.
It was successful in that it was better than 2007, but the bottom line is that despite having seen off the Wallabies and Italy, these Irish players ended up going no further on the global stage than any of the other green-shirted players who went before them.
The thing that will haunt them most hereafter is the realisation that they did not do themselves justice on Saturday morning.
Wales’ healthy blend of wily, war-hardened warriors and audacious youngsters out-fought and out-played them, this after their coach Warren Gatland had out-thought Declan Kidney tactically.
The Welsh had a plan and they executed it superbly.
They won the all-important battle of the middle third where Ferris, O’Brien, Heaslip, Murray and O’Gara lost out heavily to Lydiate, Warburton, Faletau, Priestland and Phillips.
The victors’ defence was awesome with Lydiate, who fought back from injury to play in this one, making an incredible 24 of his side’s 141 tackles. That is phenomenal.
Arguably Ireland’s most impressive player was also one who had defied logic and pain to ensure that he would take his place.
Ulster’s Rory Best was heroism in the flesh, bravely tackling, carrying, scrummaging and throwing in total disregard of the AC sprain which had threatened to rule him out.
Doubtless Ireland will reflect long and ruefully on their failure to make more of what proved to be greater possession – 54% to 46% – and time spent in the opposition 22, namely 14 mins 51 secs compared with 6 mins 34 secs.
Unlike Ireland the Welsh were creative, and clinical, in making a lot out of limited opportunities.
They also kicked better, too and what a penalty Leigh Halfpenny struck from half way.
So no dispute; those who on the day deserved to progress did so.
Overall verdict? A good campaign, but we’re no world-beaters.