Ronan O'Gara has acknowledged that Ireland's emergence as the world's third-ranked team has had much to do with the rise and rise of their front eight.
O'Gara may have marshalled the Irish to a 21-6 victory over Australia with a fine kicking display, but there were plenty of heroes in the forwards as the tourists lost the breakdown battle, failed to make inroads into the hosts' lineout and were outmanoeuvred by an Irish pack that competed for every ball, tackled to a standstill and carried at will.
The Munster number 10 said: "I think Irish forwards have been exceptional over the last few years. Look at the quality of some of the guys who can't even get into the team. I think that says something about the guys that are featuring.
"Against Australia the back row were absolutely outstanding. I thought Donners (Donncha O'Callaghan) had a massive game and Paulie (Paul O'Connell) was excellent as well. The front row stood up very well too.
"So we've quality all over the field. I think nowadays Irish forwards are comfortable on the ball and their skill levels have risen considerably and that gives us so many more options."
The 29-year-old O'Gara has had a confident start to the international season, scoring 23 points in two games, and drawing praise from many observers for his improving skills as an all-round playmaker. He showed excellent pace and ball-running ability to combine with Brian O'Driscoll and Shane Horgan to send Geordan Murphy in for Ireland's second try last Sunday.
Not forgetting that despite having to juggle the ball across midfield, O'Gara's beautifully-weighted crossfield kick out to the left flank saw Denis Hickie jink in for Ireland's opening try and the ideal comeback score for the Leinster winger.
Widely recognised, on current form, as the second best number 10 in the world, behind New Zealand's Dan Carter, the Corkman modestly said: "Yeah, it's going well for me at the moment but that's as a result of having class players around me. Everybody's communicating well with each other, taking options for me and that makes my job easier.
"I suppose the most pleasing thing is that our back line is starting to deliver now. Over the past few seasons we've done it once or twice but we've backed it up two weeks in-a-row now and that's encouraging."
O'Gara, who has taken his Ireland points-scoring record to 660 points, was quick to point out that the foundations for these back-to-back autumn wins over two Tri-Nations giants were built during the summer tour down in New Zealand and Australia.
He added: "Since the summer tour, we've lost the myth that these guys are so much better than us. I think we're on an equal footing now.
"Obviously home advantage is huge. Australia beat us in Perth but now we've beaten them at home, so you can't read too much into the results. But you have to look at the performances. The win over Australia was probably one of the best performances I've been involved in."
The two-time Lion continued: "The first half was very good. The second half was difficult because of the poor conditions but the way we controlled the game in the first half was very pleasing.
"Fellas are enjoying playing with each other, that's the main thing. You can see that during the games and 80 minutes doesn't seem to be enough for us at the moment."
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