Flankers Sean O’Brien delivered another Man of the Match performance as Ireland booked their place in the last eight at the Rugby World Cup -- then declared the job is only half done.
The Carlow native was magnificent from start to finish as Ireland produced a storming second half performance to beat Italy 36-6 in Dunedin on Sunday.
Two tries from Keith Earls and another from captain Brian O’Driscoll, all after the break, ensured Ireland were never in any real trouble in their final pool game as they maintained their 100% record.
“We feel good. We’ve done our job and topped the group, but this squad of players isn’t happy with that,” said Leinster star O’Brien.
“We want to do bigger and better things than this. 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’ve done what we’ve done.
Obviously it’s good, but we still want more and Wales is next on the list. Hopefully we can take it up a notch.
“There’s a big week ahead of us and we’ll certainly be holding nothing back.”
O’Brien was just one of many heroes on a night when Ireland, 9-6 up at the break thanks to three Ronan O’Gara penalties, kept the Italians scoreless in a breathtaking second period.
The much vaunted Italy scrum did cause the Irish some early problems but once Cian Healy turned on the heat in the front row those around him took up the mantle.
Paul O’Connell was awesome in the second row and O’Brien and Stephen Ferris powerful in the flanker roles as the Green Machine took complete control.
Whatever Declan Kidney said in the dressing-room at the break clearly worked as there was only one team on the pitch in that second 40 minutes.
An O’Gara penalty put Ireland six points up before O’Driscoll’s sublime finish, set up by D’Arcy and Bowe, for the game’s first try in the 48th minute served notice of what was to come.
The game was all but over when Ferris sent Earls in for the second try just five minutes later. Earls then added his second and Ireland’s third try in the final minutes but by then the game was well and truly over as a contest.
The Welsh, hugely impressive in recent weeks, are next up for Ireland in the quarterfinals, a match captain O’Driscoll is looking forward to.
“It’s going to be another great challenge,” said O’Driscoll. “It’s been very close in recent years and it’ll be the team that turns up on the day that goes into the semifinals.
“We’re delighted with this Italy win. We knew we needed it and I’m glad we were able to deliver in the second-half aided by what has been the best crowd we’ve played in front of so far.”
FULL-back Rob Kearney has issued a World Cup battle cry as Ireland prepare for Saturday’s mouth watering quarterfinal clash with Wales in New Zealand.
The Irish are favorites in many eyes to win the match and guarantee they stay around for the rest of the tournament, with the winners set to play in the third place playoff at worst.
A big win over Australia two weeks ago and Sunday’s convincing 36-6 triumph over Italy in their final pool game has Irish fans daring to dream of more glory to come in this Rugby World Cup.
Kearney isn’t in any mood to dampen their spirits or their enthusiasm ahead of Saturday’s date with very familiar opponents.
“We had that great win against Australia, but there were still a lot of doubters out there,” claimed the Leinster star after Sunday’s win.
“This was a big day for Irish rugby, our personalities, us as a team and how we want to be perceived as a team.
“Obviously there was a quarterfinal place at stake and that’s massive, but in terms of building a legacy and how this Ireland teams wants to be known, beating Italy was quite important.
“We finished top of the pool and are slowly creating something really special. We feel as if there’s more to come. I hope we’re perceived to be a tough team to play against that’s building and improving with every game.
“That’s four wins out of four, so we have sent out bit of a message. Any team that won all four group games needs to be taken seriously.
“Topping the pool is fantastic and has got us into a quarter-final, but we want to go a lot further.”
Keith Earls scored two tries and captain Brian O’Driscoll grabbed another as Ireland completely dominated the second half against the Italians.
“Tries win games and for weeks we’ve been talking about not taking our opportunities. We have to be more accurate in those channels,” added Kearney.
“When you get chances at a World Cup you must take them and we’ve starting to do that a little more. It’s good to see us scoring tries.”
While the fans are enjoying their New Zealand jaunt, Kearney insists it will be business as usual for Ireland this week before the Welsh game.
The Louth native maintained, “The excitement’s gone already and that’s how focused everyone is. There was more excitement and elation after the Australia game.
“The fact it’s a six-day turnaround makes a massive difference in terms of recovery. Wales will be on us before we know it.”
RORY Best is highly unlikely to play in Saturday’s Rugby World Cup quarterfinal, but the hooker will be available if Ireland beat Wales and book a place in the last four.
Ulster star Best was forced out of Sunday’s final pool game against Italy with a shoulder injury that has all but ruled him out of this weekend’s Celtic derby in Wellington.
Ireland coach Declan Kidney has already taken the precaution of flying Munster hooker Michael Sherry out from Ireland as cover to Sean Cronin and “Rory has been playing fantastic rugby and it would be a blow if he’s not available,” said Ireland team boss Paul McNaughton.
IRELAND assistant coach Alan Gaffney is impressed with Wales as the countdown continues to Saturday’s big Rugby World Cup quarterfinal in Wellington.
“We’ve seen all of Wales’ games during the World Cup and the Six Nations. They’re playing well and could have beaten South Africa,” said Gaffney.
“They’ve changed their style, which had become predictable. People said it was attractive, but it was predictable. Full credit to head coach Warren Gatland and his coaches. They’ve changed their attack, which is now more potent.”
South Africa’s Craig Joubert will referee the Rugby World Cup showdown between Ireland and Wales in Wellington.
Athony Daly Stays
ANTHONY Daly has pledged his future to Dublin and agreed to remain in charge of the county hurlers after their successful 2011 campaign.
Daly won the National League title with the Dubs and reached the All-Ireland semifinal in a breakthrough year for the team.
“There are a couple of little things to be cleared up with the backroom staff. I’m waiting for those things to be confirmed,” Daly told The Irish Times.
“Hopefully all will be in place over the next two or three weeks and we’ll drive on from there. There are couple of i’s to be dotted and t’s to be crossed but we’re committed to giving it a rattle again.”
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