Paul O’Connell and Sean O’Brien were to the fore as Ireland clinched World Cup quarter-final qualification with an assured win over Italy in Dunedin.
The Irish forwards maintained a high work-rate throughout the 36-6 success, negating the threat of the Italian scrum and providing quick ball for young scrum half Conor Murray.
They were efficient and controlled in what they did and the backs showed the necessary cutting edge, especially Tommy Bowe and Andrew Trimble in their creation of tries for Brian O’Driscoll and Keith Earls respectively.
A pleased Paul O’Connell said afterwards: “It was very good. We got a few good carries going in the second half and got over the gain line. I think when you do that it’s a lot easier to create and that’s what we did.”
The ball-carrying and strength shown at the breakdown and in collisions were further plus points, as was the Irish scrum which again had very few weaknesses.
Asked how he felt the scrum went, O’Connell told ITV Sport: “Very well, I think. We are lucky we have a few guys in the squad who are obsessed with scrummaging, Mike Ross and these guys live for scrums.
“So they just kept their heads down and did their work. Fair play to them I think it was a pivotal part of the game for us today.”
Things seem to be coming together at just the right time as Ireland lead the northern Hemisphere’s crusade into the last-eight of the tournament.
The way the draw has worked out, the top teams in each Hemisphere have now been split into quarter-final pairings with the winners of the Ireland v Wales match facing England or France at the semi-final stage.
Paying respect to the manner of Wales’ qualification, O’Connell added: “It will be an incredibly tough game. Wales are very confident and playing some great rugby.
“They seem to have put up a big score again tonight (against Fiji). They came through a very tough pool. We know each other so well from the Celtic League, the Heineken Cup and the Six Nations. We have a really tough battle ahead.”
Although he praised Ronan O’Gara for an ‘excellent’ night’s work at out-half, Ireland’s pack leader was more content to focus on the collective efforts of the team.
“It came together against Australia and it came together in the second half today. I think a lot of work goes into it, a lot of preparation both mentally and physically.
“We can’t take that for granted. If we do take it for granted we will be a poor side. When we do get those little bits right and we get the basics right we are a very good side that can beat anyone.”
Meanwhile, Rugby World Cup MasterCard man-of-the-match Sean O’Brien was satisfied with a fourth pool win but reflected the determination in the squad when insisting that Ireland are ‘only halfway there’.
“We feel good. We’ve done our job and topped the pool, but this squad of players isn’t happy with that. We want to do bigger and better things than this,” he said after the game.
“There’s way more to come from this team. We said after the second pool game we’re halfway there and now we’ll say again, we’re only halfway there.
“There’s no point thinking we’ve achieved something now because we have done what we’ve done. We want more and Wales is next on the list. Hopefully we can take it up a notch.”
The direct style of play at Otago Stadium was right up O’Brien’s street, the Tullow man making a number of rampaging runs and leaving him mark with some bone-crunching tackles.
The reigning ERC European Player of the Year will look for more of the same against Wales, and he is clearly warming to these big nights in the World Cup spotlight.
“It’s tough to come into a game knowing that nothing other than a win will do. We stuck to our guns and our game-plan and it paid off. We never strayed from what we meant to do,” explained the 24-year-old flanker.
“There’s a great mixture of youth and experience in the squad. The experienced lads you follow in big games like this.
“It was a good game. It was physical and fast – everything you wanted. We were all about being direct in this game and things just opened up for us.”
Follow the Ireland team in New Zealand on www.twitter.com/irfurugby.