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Monday, 11 November, 2002, 00:28 GMT
Ireland come of age

They have not known a night like it in Dublin since Johnny Logan won the Eurovision Song Contest for Ireland.


Ireland have suddenly discovered a real belief they can actually beat the best

The headline in The Observer newspaper seemed to sum-up the prevailing mood after a compelling weekend: "The North 3, The South 0".

And while it would be fair to say that the rugby world has not shifted off its axis for ever just yet, signs of bigger and more regular tremors to come in the future are evident.

The heavyweight correspondents in their columns and the fans on their message boards have concentrated largely on events at Twickenham.

If you are English, it was an historic win. If you are a Kiwi, it was a plucky showing by the second-stringers.

The truth lies somewhere in the middle. Both teams will take encouragement.

France's Cedric Heymans on his way to a try against South Africa
France beat South Africa 30-10

South Africa's Marseille mauling puts my belief that they could be World Cup winners next year into some perspective.

Wales played their best rugby for three years against Fiji, while Scotland ought to have plucked more than the 37 points they did against Romania.

For me though, the result of the weekend came at homely Lansdowne Road.

I wasn't brave enough to invest any Euros on my pre-match hunch, but you could see Ireland's win coming.

They have been threatening it for 12 months. First, they nearly beat the All Blacks in Dublin, then they did turn over England.

And who would have thought they would give the All Blacks such a scare in the first Test in Dunedin over the summer?

Finally, against an Australian team looking an Outback away from real World Champions at the moment, they produced the goods.

Ireland have suddenly discovered a real belief they can actually beat the best.

The days when they could be relied upon to play their plucky part for an hour, collapse obligingly to avoid embarrassing their more glamorous visitors but then recover in time for the hooly in the evening have been consigned to the Dublin dustbin.

Brian O'Driscoll and Shane Horgan celebrate Ireland's victory over Australia
Ireland's win prompted celebrations across Dublin

In Brian O'Driscoll, they have one of the game's genuine worldwide stars.

Ronan O'Gara and Peter Stringer have an understanding at half-back that comes from knowing each other from their schooldays. Both had huge games.

And while I was longing for David Humphreys to come on and break Jackie Kyle's record at fly-half, O'Gara did not deserve to miss his moment of glory.

Ireland will not win the World Cup - but when they meet the Aussies again in the Big One next October, the locals might need the roof at Melbourne's Colonial Stadium to stop the world falling in a second time.

 NOV 9 INTERNATIONALS
 ENG V NZ
 IRE V AUS
 WALES V FIJI
 SCOT V ROM
 FRANCE V SA

Links to more International stories are at the foot of the page.


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