Tuesday, February 27, 2007

6-Nations Rugby Week 3: A Bitter Sweet Symphony

Being a miserable old bastard by temperament I couldn't quite achieve the euphoria of my fellow countrymen about Ireland's win over England last Saturday. You could divide your emotions into 3 discrete compartments - but they kept leaking one into the other.

Firstly you had the occasion. Would we disgrace ourselves? Would the louts and the backwoodsmen prevail? Would our centuries-old inferiority complex win out? You could feel the tension building up as the kick off approached. The Irish team raised the ante by leaving the English stew in the Croke Park cauldron for 5 minutes before they joined them on the pitch. A bit of a cheap shot perhaps, but payback for Martin Johnson's infraction. Then on marches the bould Mary in imperial purple and the formalities take place uneventfully. The she's back in her box after being lurched at by the gormless Bertie - to the vast amusement of the world. And so to the anthems - God Save the Queen sung with gusto and no hint of disruption followed by Soldier's Song and not a dry eye in the house. I notice that it's 2 Munster men who cry for Ireland - John Hayes and Jer Flannery - passion eh. So the occasion is a triumph for the new Ireland.

Secondly the match itself. Never have I seen England so put down by an Irish team. It seemed we could do no wrong. O'Gara's cross kick for Horgan to field and score was the highlight. And the Irish (Munster) pack so recently demolished by Leicster, bully an English pack dominated by Leicster men. The key element, aside from greater skill and experience, was that Ireland to a man were hungrier. Their intensity in the tackle and the rucks cleared the decks for the boys at the back to strut their stuff. So all who watched were priviliged to see the greatest Irish team of all time play to their full potential.

Thirdly, and here's the rub, the very fact that they won so easily brought up again the nightmare of the French match. What will this great Irish team, at their peak, have to show for their season? A Triple Crown? That is not enough. There is only one redemption for this team. They must beat France in their group of the World Cup and progress to meet New Zealand in the final. There is no other way to banish the what might have beens.