Finn touched by shirt request
The difference between Ireland and Australia was clear on the field in Limerick on Saturday night, but there was no disparity in the ego stakes as Wolfhounds captain Liam Finn enjoyed a special moment in his career.
Finn is a journeyman professional who, while excelling for Featherstone in the Championship, has never played in England's top flight and works full-time as an electrician.
The 30-year-old was powerless to stop Australia steamrollering his side 50-0 at Thomond Park but was surprised when opposite number Cooper Cronk asked him for his shirt.
Cronk is rated as one of the world's best half-backs and it would have been expected that Finn would have been the one doing any asking, but the latter thinks the turn of events show how much the Australians care about the state of the game in Ireland.
"The camaraderie between the players and the things after the game have been fantastic," Finn said.
"To put it in perspective, Cooper Cronk asked me to swap shirts after the game and I play second division rugby league in England and he's the best half-back in the world; he wants to swap shirts with me. They are the type of players you get in rugby league.
"He's aspiring to be just like me - let's see if he can get a game in the Championship next season! When people like that want to talk to you, you do. The message we get from the NRL players is they want the game to develop and they're secure enough in that knowledge to want to pass it on."
For his part Cronk was more than happy to take Finn's shirt as a keepsake, saying: "This is the first time I have been to Limerick and I have had the chance to experience a powerhouse of rugby union in Munster. I'm just as proud to represent my country as the captain of Ireland is who plays second division."
The fruits of Ireland's trek into union heartland at Munster's ground may not be immediate but coach Mark Aston is hopeful they will eventually come.
The crowd of 5,021 was a record for the sport in Ireland and while a 50-point flogging to mark Ireland's expected exit from the competition may not have been the best advert, the skill of Australia was at least something to behold.
Aston has previously voiced frustrations at how the game is run on the Emerald Isle but claims he is ready and willing to keep going in the bid to bridge the gap between his side and the best.
"It (his appetite) has been challenged. But when you come into camp and you get this group of people it (enthusiasm) comes flooding back. I will speak to the players and I fancy doing this again," he said.
"We have started something. I wish we had done this three years ago when I first started. We know where we are now and people who have been in the camp say they have enjoyed it. We've worked them hard but we've had a good time.
"We are giving people opportunities and not just the players, the backroom staff too who are working 14 hours a day for these players. The desire is there, the backroom staff are up for it and as long as they don't sack us, we will probably go round again."