Will Ireland's 'golden generation' turn to rust?
With Wales facing Ireland in next Saturday's World Cup quarter finals, there will be a lot of talk about Ireland's 'golden generation' over the next few days. Ireland believed that they had struck gold in the early 2000's when they uncovered a rich seam of talent which included Brian O' Driscoll, Paul O'Connell, Ronan O' Gara, Donncha O'Callaghan and Gordon D'Arcy.
Whilst many of these players have had glittering individual careers, to refer to their collective international achievements as 'golden' seems foolish; they are bronze or silver at best.
Ireland's provinces may have had an 18 carat decade in domestic and European competitions, but the test side has a record that is more reminiscent of the sort of bling you find under the display cases in Argos.
Panning Ireland may seem controversial, but since the inception of the Six Nations, Ireland have only won a single Grand Slam, whilst Wales have lifted two. To their credit, the Irish have taken a few Southern Hemisphere scalps over the past decade, most recently a superb win over Australia in this year's Rugby World Cup, yet this is the same squad that also matched Wales in failing to get out of their pool in 2007.
Even if you buy the golden generation tag, their value has decreased significantly over the past few years. Despite retaining good distribution skills and a flanker-like ability to 'tackle and jackal', 'Waltzing' O'Driscoll no longer dances. Ronan O'Gara, who has always chosen to play a limited game, no longer has the option to do anything else. And D'Arcy, ironically, now moves at the same pace as an English period drama. The one exception to the rule is Paul O'Connell, who since losing a stone and a half in weight, is playing some of the best rugby of his career.
Whether or not you doubt the authenticity of the original golden generation, Ireland have recently blasted out some more sizable nuggets. Sean O'Brien, Stephen Ferris and Jamie Heaslip form a sensational ball carrying back row, with O'Brien providing real metal, particularly when he runs an angle back through the 12/13 channel.
With many of the golden generation expected to retire after this year's RWC, Saturday's quarter final against Wales could be their last opportunity to sparkle.
But I believe Wales will take the shine off the Irish. They may have discovered gold all those years ago, but with the current crop of Welsh players, Gatland has discovered platinum.