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Peter Bills' World Cup blog: Questions for Ireland as Wales throw it away

Gee, what a weekend of rugby action. And in some parts of the country, what weather! They had a tornado rip through some suburbs of Auckland on Sunday.

You could say, Ireland are going to need a tornado up their back sides if they are to have much chance against the Australians in the big crunch game of Pool C this coming Saturday night at Eden Park, Auckland.

OK, Ireland got the job done in difficult conditions against an understandably fired up USA on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Some of the Americans’ scrambling defence and tackling was superb on the night.

Even so, Ireland’s performance left a lot of questions unanswered about their approach and team selections. Captain Brian O’Driscoll, to his immense credit, did not attempt to beat about the bush afterwards, saying “our performance was loose. It’s a pity we couldn’t give the Irish supporters a bit more to cheer about.”

Don’t know about you but I have huge respect for those Irish supporters who travelled right across the world and then stood in the rain at New Plymouth to watch their heroes. Whether the players understand what it takes for fans to do that – think of the cost alone – I don’t know. But you hope they do.

After this first weekend of action, I feel bruised and shaken just sitting watching the games. The hammering collisions of modern day rugby were never better illustrated by the Wales v South Africa match. Welsh centre Jamie Roberts must be black and blue from crashing into the huge Springbok defenders time and again.

His captain Sam Warburton, who I thought had an exceptional game, ought to be feeling likewise. It was heart breaking for Wales that they came up a single point short of the Springboks after what was, by miles, the best all-round performance by any of the northern hemisphere countries in action this weekend.

But to face the facts, you have to say Wales chucked it away. They had THREE chances of victory in the last 24 minutes and squandered the lot. First they knocked on 3 metres from the South African line after another surge by Roberts. Then fly half Rhys Priestland missed an absolute sitter of a drop goal right in front of the posts and then thirdly, James Hook missed a penalty.

I suspect that if veteran Stephen Jones had been playing at outside half, he would have squeezed Wales home.

Had they taken any of those opportunities they may well have won. But it was the old story, a northern hemisphere side coming up agonisingly short against southern hemisphere opposition (remember Ireland losing by a point to Australia in that crucial pool match at the 2003 World Cup in Melbourne?) because they lacked the killer instinct.

So the dust settles after the opening weekend. But there are all sorts of fascinating matches to look forward to this week. The top one has to be Ireland v Australia on Saturday.

Can Declan’s boys do what the Welsh so nearly did and stun southern hemisphere opponents? Time will tell.

But before that, I’m crawling out of my Auckland base at the ungodly hour of -0530 tomorrow morning to catch the ‘red eye’ 0700 flight down to Christchurch. I will spend the next couple of days researching an article on the aftermath of the earthquake.

It won’t be pretty and there will doubtless be some sad tales to hear. But it is an article I will be interested to write after visiting the Italian town of L’Aquila last year which also suffered devastation from an earthquake.

Belfast Telegraph


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