RTÉ pundit Brent Pope declared us ‘the best rugby team in the world’ after Saturday’s slender but thoroughly-merited victory over a season-sapped South Africa side who looked like they’d rather be anywhere else but in the freezing fog off Jones’s Road.
Back in late 2007 the inquest into the abject failure of Eddie O’Sullivan’s World Cup campaign was well underway.
Fast forward two years and, with a new manager, buoyed by a Grand Slam-winning debut season, a collective confidence, and an infusion of new blood, Ireland are a different proposition altogether; though the work-in-progress will only start when it comes to reconstructing the pack, as must happen, and the sooner the better, even if some Six Nations success has to be sacrificed in the process.
Paul O’Connell is the definitive model, but Ireland have leaders everywhere you look now. Deemed a luxury Leinster can do without on occasion, Rob Kearney is the best full-back on the planet bar none, the man the Springboks would most like to have; Brian O’Driscoll has emerged as a hit-making, line-breaking captain courageous, and Johnny Sexton (while hardly the ‘youngster’ he’s purported to be at 24) looks like he has the temperament and talent to take the outhalf mantle in his stride.
However, would we be still saying that had a couple of missed second-half penalties proved the difference between winning and losing; as well they might have were it not for the Irish defence’s late defiance, exemplified by ‘Bod’ putting his on the line yet again.
As Ronan O’Gara knows only too well, the margins between hero and zero are minimal. Luck, as ever, will play a part, but with IRB coach of the year Declan Kidney’s humility (Clive Woodward he aint), and ability to gel players and provinces, Ireland should be still in a good place when autumn 2011 comes around.
The new Aviva Stadium’s 50,000 capacity is starting to look a bit on the small side mind you…