10 Dec, 12:23
Ireland's John Lacey will referee his first ever RBS 6 Nations while Alain Rolland is also included in the Elite Panel in what is his last season.
Esteemed rugby writer and historian Ned Van Esbeck regaled members of the Irish Rugby Supporters Club during the week with his memories of the old Lansdowne Road. The special event, broadcast on RTI Radio 1, was held at the old ground.
NED VAN ESBECK:
"Ireland-Australia, December 1947 - that was the first match at Lansdowne I attended. Came up as a schoolboy from Cork. My late brother Frank brought me up. Stood at the Lansdowne Road end on the grass bank, we were beaten 16-3. I don't think the result meant an awful lot to me, I was just thrilled to be at Lansdowne Road for the first time.
"There was a great air of depression around at the time that Ireland were going nowhere, but three months later we completed the Grand Slam.
"(Back then) there was an old uncovered stand up in the north west corner, the West Stand was one tier, the East Stand was up on stills (people stood underneath the stand) - that was turned down then in 1983 and rebuilt.
"The West Stand, the cover went over it in the 1970s or '60s I think, and then all the terracing was built up and the old uncovered stand - that was deemed unsafe - so they took it away and they built the terracing around from the East Stand to the old Lansdowne Pavillion.
"Winning the Triple Crown in '82 against Scotland (was one of my favourite moments), we had never won a Triple Crown at Lansdowne Road - that was a tremendous day. Winning in '85, but a match that I have always had a very special affection for was '56 here when we played Wales, a Welsh team of all the talents. Jackie Kyle, my great hero, the greatest I've ever seen, was in the Irish side.
"They beat Wales that afternoon, it was tremendous performance. The late Marnie Cunningham, who was a very, very good friend of mine and a class-mate of mine who later became a priest (he sadly died two years ago), he played brilliantly that afternoon.
"The '70 one against Wales, when Wales came over with the team of all the talents, and we absolutely destroyed them 14-0 with the late Ken Goodall scoring a try and Alan Duggan got a great try in the right hand corner.
...There were laughs all round as Ned Van Esbeck let slip to RTI's Des Cahill that former Ireland out-half Mick Quinn (pictured to Cahill's right) actually proposed to his wife on the halfway line at Lansdowne Road. Mick assured Supporters Club members that there was nobody around at the time, but Ned quipped: "She had it photographed!"...
"Some great schools matches that I saw here and some great Leinster Senior Cup finals. The '69 Leinster Senior Cup final between Mary's and Trinity (Peter Boyle made sure I'd say that!). Mary's won after a replay with a penalty in injury-time.
"I've a huge affection for this ground. I've always loved coming into it, even if I'm here on my own I was happy at Lansdowne Road. There's something special about it. Time moves on and I hope it will keep the unique atmosphere that it has.
"A man who is owed a huge debt of gratitude is Henry William Dunlop who was the first man to establish it, he bought the lease from the Pembroke Estate.
"Then he passed the lease on to a fellow called Harry Shepherd, who happened to be the treasurer of the IRFU and who died a very young man in 1906 and the IRFU fell lucky because Henry Shepherd's mother offered the lease to them. The IRFU signed a 50-year lease and then in around 1974 or '75 they bought the freehold of the ground out."
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