Scotland and England fans flock to Auckland ahead of a crucial match between the fierce rivals in the Rugby World Cup.
|It has been thumbs up all round for Ireland and their captain Brian O’Driscoll so far [GALLO/GETTY]|
Thousands of green-clad fans were thronging the bars of Otago Stadium and captain Brian O’Driscoll was still in his kit when Ireland coach Declan Kidney was jolted from his enjoyment of the 36-6 World Cup victory over Italy on Sunday.
Glancing at his watch, he said, in some exasperation at the post-match news conference: “Phew, you don’t give us much time do you?”
The comment was in response to the first of the no-doubt several dozen times he will be asked this week about Saturday’s quarter-final against Wales in Wellington when Ireland have their best chance of getting to the semi-finals for the first time.
“It will be like a cup final,” he said.
“That’s what this competition is all about. Today was a cup final and thankfully we’ve qualified for another one.
“It will be like a Six Nations game because the players know each other so well, space will be cut down. We know each other’s style of play so it’s a fantastic challenge.”
Ireland’s previous four quarter-finals have ended with two defeats by Australia and two by France but it was their pool victory over the Wallabies this time that has given them a dream path to the final, with a potential semi against France or England on the horizon.
“They’ve got a team who can knock over anyone in that side of the draw in the quarters and the semis,” said Italy coach Nick Mallett.
“I don’t think any team can be confident against them. Where is their weakness?”
They certainly showed all sides of their game on Sunday as their pack stood toe to toe in a tense, bruising, often violent, first half before the backs took charge in the second.
“It hasn’t really mattered where they’ve been played, we’ve won in Cardiff and they’ve won in Dublin. There’s not much between the sides and I envisage it will be another close one”
Tommy Bowe’s scything run to set up Brian O’Driscoll for the first try swung the game Ireland’s way and the first of Keith Earls’ two tries soon after broke Italy’s resistance.
Ronan O’Gara also succeeded where many others had failed in mastering the art of goalkicking at the indoor stadium as he landed four out of five penalties and both his conversion attempts.
“There was a pressure on us to perform and we responded well to it,” said O’Driscoll.
“We kept the scoreboard ticking over well, then we carved out some good chances and were clinical in how we took them.”
O’Driscoll will be facing Wales for the 14th time on Saturday and, despite the optimism sweeping through Irish fans, he said the match would always be a tough one to call.
“The games have been incredibly close in my career, toing and froing,” he said.
“It hasn’t really mattered where they’ve been played, we’ve won in Cardiff and they’ve won in Dublin. There’s not much between the sides and I envisage it will be another close one.”
Ireland look to be going into the game in relatively good shape physically, though Rory Best could be a concern after the hooker suffered what seemed a serious-looking shoulder injury on Sunday.