Ireland have always been great celebrators of rugby triumph, making the most of it before the inevitable tragedy that was bound to follow.

Not this team. Their maturity both on and off the pitch suggests this is a team that expect to stay the course.

Not that they would say so much, which is why it was gratifying that Nick Mallett said it for them.

The South African coach, whose tenure with Italy ended with Sunday night's defeat to Ireland, believes this is a team without flaws. That is an ominous observation for Wales and their coach Warren Gatland to digest before their Celtic quarter-final clash in Wellington on Saturday.

Advertisement

"Ireland didn't come into this World Cup as big favourites because of their pre-[tournament] preparation - they lost four games. But they definitely targeted Australia as a key game and they've targeted us as a key game," Mallett said, after watching his side get blown away.

"Once they get into the quarter-finals and semifinals, they've got a team that can knock over anyone on that side of the draw. I really do believe that. I don't think any team could be confident of playing against Ireland at the moment and say, 'well, we have a genuine chance of beating this team'.

"Where's their weakness?"

He has a fair point. Ireland might not have a team full of game-breakers, but numbers one through 22 know their roles well.

The back row of Jamie Heaslip, Stephen Ferris and Sean O'Brien would vie with New Zealand and South Africa for the strongest combination at the World Cup. The front row, thought to be an Achilles heel coming into the tournament, is in brilliant form, though there is concern over hooker Rory Best's shoulder.

The outside backs are all in good nick and, in stark contrast to another of the quarter-finalists, they have two first five-eighths fit and in form.

Jonathan Sexton is the sparkier of the two, but Ronan O'Gara appears to have nudged his way into top billing in coach Declan Kidney's eyes because of his accurate goalkicking and calm game management.

O'Gara's style jars against the style antipodeans expect from their first-fives, but the 34-year-old knows how to keep the ball in front of his pack.

Advertisement

So while Mallett's assessment might initially reek of hyperbole, it is hard to pick big holes in it.

There was, however, no danger of any of the Irish launching into bold pronouncements.

"Just very pleased with the way we managed to get ourselves through the pool in first place," Brian O'Driscoll said. "We have big belief in our ability and what we're capable of and we've delivered a couple of times and we've got ourselves into a place where we're playing Wales for a semifinal spot. It's all you can hope for at this stage."

Kidney expected it to play out like a Six Nations' match, with space and time at a premium.

About the only player who hinted there might be a big performance in the offing was flanker Sean O'Brien, who has announced himself as one of the stars of the tournament with his blockbusting displays.

"We ground out that result [against Italy] ... but I think there's way more to come from this team. We can bring it up another notch next week."

Ireland v Wales
Wellington, 6pm Saturday