Irish eyes bulged with delight and arms were raised skywards while stricken Wallabies lay prone on the floor after last week’s defining World Cup encounter between Declan Kidney’s side and Australia.
Paul O’Connell thumped the ground with aggressive exuberance; Brian O’Driscoll was moved to the verge of tears as he heard little Dublin, located in an imposing Eden Park stadium in Auckland, rock to the sound of unadulterated delight as the memory of four straight World Cup warm up defeats were banished into the night air after 80 minutes of pulsating action.
The moment Steven Ferris snatched the elusive Will Genia and marched him backwards over ten metres had the feel of a defining moment about it. This was the Will Genia that was so slippery the fabled All Blacks back row – led by the incessant Richie McCaw – couldn’t keep him within their grasp long enough to stop him doing irreparable damage to their Tri Nations hopes.
But the Irish got to him, none more so than Ferris, who harried and cornered him, haranguing him into submission and with it jamming the gears of the quick, slick Australian machine. From here, victory was built.
Ireland had arrived at this World Cup. Wales had already laid claim to the throne with a heroic performance against South Africa. Now it is the turn of England and Scotland -Now it is time for these two to perform a similar act of emergence.
Both remain unbeaten in this tournament, two of only six teams with an immaculate record. But both also have shrouds of doubt which envelop them and will only clear when one team is left standing while the other picks up the pieces.
For the men wearing a Scotland Jersey ,this entails a sudden change of pace that will carry them through two tough games. Their progress so far is surrounded in a shroud of doubt, assured as it has been. Neither Romania or Georgia had the dynamism to test them fully -they have been dealing with straight-forward, honest power and endeavour so far. Argentina will up the ante somewhat, as will England.
Elements of their game are waking up to the challenge, the scrum in particular rose to the muscular threat of Romania and Georgia, smothering any pockets of uprising. The backs and their seeming unwillingness to fling it around won’t be solved in the space of a tournament, but green shoots of promise have sprung and the shackles appear to be loosening, but whether they will have the confidence to elaborate upon this when the going gets tough remains to be seen.
By comparison England are awash with issues, in danger of being subsumed by the baggage and furore that surrounds them – but that cannot distract from the singular truth that lurks menacingly behind them; they were not prepared for this tournament.
Perhaps not in terms of scientific and psychological evaluation; ever since the days of Clive Woodward the England team have been followed around by an entourage of chefs, sports scientists and data analysts. No, unfortunately for them, the problem runs much deeper – they are a team without an identity, and are suffering because of it.
Are they the team which overwhelmed Australia with their free spirit little more than twelve months ago? Are they the side that helped Chris Ashton claim a 6 Nations try scoring record after just two games of the competition?
Or are they nervous wretches, scared of breaking free of the structure which suffocates them for fear of losing in a manner similar to the games in which they unravelled against South Africa (a side that Scotland had beaten weeks before) and Ireland – a gun with plenty of bullets but a faulty firing mechanism?
They have men who leave vapour trails over rugby pitches in the backs and pneumatic forwards who can wrestle with the best, but there is no linkage between these two aspects. They are conjoined twins, bound together but one sucking the life and soul out of the other.
Of course their ill-discipline is like a disease that rots to the very core, but is something that is relatively easily dealt with. They must be smarter at the breakdown and know when to bide their time before going for the kill. A meeting can deal with this, but harsher more brutally honest questions must be asked of both the men on the pitch and the men in charge.
Both Martin Johnson and Andy Robinson are cut from a very similar cloth; both have a tendency to display extreme displeasure with a swift thump of a desk from behind a glass cage if a game goes against them, while both have a wry smile that suggests they are very much aware of their portrayal as ogres, and at times play up to it.
Both are perceptive men who will be aware of the importance of their showdown in little more than two weeks’ time. For England at least, there can be little gained in the game against Romania, it is a lose/lose situation. Momentum, confidence or salvation cannot be garnered against the Oaks. That can only come from a true test of their resolve: the Scotland game.
Scotland meanwhile will know that victory over Argentina, as tough as it will be, could count for nothing should they dissolve against England – it will be the game that defines Pool B.
It just so happens that it is also the game in which more than just World Cup points will be won and lost. It is a game for two sides still waiting outside the party while others make merry from the warm comfort within. One will continue to wait outside, wracked by doubt, while the other can join in the fun.