Things change fast in sport. Just nine months ago, Ireland welcomed New Zealand to the Aviva and gave the All Blacks the Dublin beating they were long owed. The win completed a year to remember for Joe Schmidt and his crew. It was the icing on the cake after a Six Nations Grand Slam and a Leinster European Cup win. Even the most jaded Irish rugby fans would have conceded that there was a growing inevitability about Ireland overcoming its World Cup hoodoo in Japan. A final might be a tall order, but winning a group with Scotland and Japan was practically a dead cert and a quarterfinal win was achievable, maybe even predestined.
And that was no slight on our likely opponents South Africa, who'll be involved in an armwrestle with the All Blacks to win Group B. It was just a sign of how glorious everything was in Irish rugby nine months ago.
Oh, but how has the world turned. Wales will be atop the next World Rugby rankings. Ireland seem locked in the spiral of bad luck and middling form that always seems to happen during a World Cup year. And most frighteningly, South Africa is awake. Terrifyingly awake. The Springboks travelled to Salta this week and last night tore Argentina to shreds in the second half, winning the match 46-13 and the Rugby Championship. They've beaten the Wallabies, drawn with the All Blacks and scored 11 tries along the way.
Their forwards look ferocious.
Under Rassie Erasmus for 17 matches now, South Africa look to be clicking, and might just be the form team in the world. They'll play the All Blacks on September 21 in Yokohama. Jerome Garces, who refereed yesterday's Australia-New Zealand game, will referee that match as well. The outcome of that match looks a lot less certain than it when the draw was made.
And maybe it's time Irish fans started asking themselves, if we can get out of our group, would we prefer to play New Zealand in the quarterfinal?
Thank you to our opponents, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand for another epic Castle Larger Rugby Championship! The road to the Rugby World Cup begins now… @unionargentina @qantaswallabies @AllBlacks pic.twitter.com/oQ4LoZUlVK
— Springboks (@Springboks) August 10, 2019