The only man I met all day that wasnâ00t happy was McScrum! David Noble, the well-known face that sells the cheery McScrum hats, scarves etc. outside rugby stadia and erstwhile coach to your correspondent, was humping his outsize kitbag through the rain opposite Gillâ00s on the North Circular. As he wrestled his bag atop a litter bin, he bemoaned the whole set-up. â00Itâ00s a fruitinâ00 disaster! The sooner we get back to Lansdowne the better for everyoneâ00. I think the issue was being moved off his regular pitch, but I couldnâ00t be sure. Still, his â00Hat on a Poleâ00 proved useful when it came to making myself visible to my lovely, lovely new best friend that had a ticket for me. And many were kind enough to comment on my new and rather natty line in green beret (about as close to the Marines as this ageing scribe is going to get).
Itâ00s funny the way things get to you. I mean, you make all the rationalisations in advance. Itâ00s only a stadium; sure it happened 86 years ago, itâ00s not such a big deal; itâ00s got nothing to do with this generation â00 but when itâ00s all synthesized into a couple of moments and two songs, itâ00s a rare person that didnâ00t feel the power of the moment. And that was just me â00 poor old Jerry Flannery and The Bull Hayes were in bits.
If we feared that the occasion would get to the players again, however, how wrong we were. Despite a ropey decision to kick by Brian Oâ00Driscoll off the first possession when he had the overlap in his own 22 and a stuttery minute thereafter, Ireland settled quickly into their stride. From third minute to last, Ireland were sharper in thought and deed.
The early tactic of kicking in behind new-boy Strettle was only partially successful, but it was a viable option because Wilkinsonâ00s kicking out of hand was surprisingly inadequate and Oâ00Garaâ00s was much improved on the two previous outings.
Simon Easterby delivered an early turnover before his backrow compadres formed twin pillars over a prone Farrell and the lead penalty was secured. The backrow as a unit delivered in spades all day long. And when Simon Easterby augments his nitty gritty with slaloming runs to the corner, then you know itâ00s your day.
Earlier in the day, I had the good fortune to be introduced to the mother and father of all Wallaces. Davidâ00s father confessed to still getting nervous ahead of these events. Youâ00d wonder why. The young fella was many observersâ00 Man of the Match and decorated the occasion with a try that typified his power and intelligence.
At No. 8, for all his Yeoman worthiness, Martin Corry personifies the difference between the teams. His opposite number, Denis Leamy, has a dynamism and footballing skills that Corry can only dream of, and this was replicated in many positions throughout the sides.
Another early moment presaged what was to follow. Oâ00Connell, back to his thunderous best, soared to take the first lineout against the throw. Physical bullying was a further theme throughout the day and one that gladdened the heart of those who endured physical mismatches through the 90s. Oâ00Driscollâ00s hit on Olly Morgan, and Horganâ00s manhandling of Strettle when chasing a chip ahead, set the tone.
If the comparison between Leamy and Corry said much, so too did Dâ00Arcyâ00s sublime flick to set up Dempseyâ00s score, especially when compared to the prosaic contributions of the opposing Tindall and Farrell. Such exquisite skill was a fine example of how Dâ00Arcy has expanded his passing repertoire over the past two years.
Quite how a â00visionaryâ00 backline coach like Brian Ashton can select what are essentially two first centres in Tindall and Farrell on the same England side is as startling as the individual and collective lack of pace and threat they exhibited.
Despite the defeat to France, this seasonâ00s real bonus has been the relatively rock-solid nature of Irelandâ00s scrum. To watch Ireland, not just comfortable against England, but actively disrupting their scrum, was to have oneâ00s perspective radically altered. Hats off to the oft-maligned front row and the backroom team. If this improvement can be sustained, it may yet be the single greatest advance in this World Cup year.
One wonders whether Rory Bestâ00s presence has anything to do with the improved performance in this area. Either way, the doughty hooker is grimly hanging on to his position. I made his throwing display pretty faultless. He had a patch as purple as Mary Robinsonâ00s coat right at the end of the first half when he drove Grewcock back and then caught Lewsey in possession for a turnover steal.
When Ireland began to run at England in earnest, the comparison between the two teams was brought into stark relief. It was my one wish ahead of this game that Ireland would keep ball in hand and run at the opposition, as they had done against Australia and South Africa in the Autumn.
Once they did, England simply couldnâ00t handle it. It is the sheer level of football ability that sets this team apart. The facility with which backs and forwards are offloading out of the tackle and unsettling opposing defences was all the more pronounced for Englandâ00s abject failure to bring this to the party.
The second half, once the England mini-revival was stemmed, was an exhibition. In that context it may seem ludicrous to suggest a turning point. But Wallaceâ00s snagging of Lewsey that forced the knock-on and Hickieâ00s audacious counter-attack that nearly brought one of the tries of the season might actually have been one. Had England scored then (and had Lewsey eluded Wallace, the chances were good), then we may have been back to 29-20 with belief coursing through English veins.
Okay, Iâ00m reaching. It seemed a long way away as Horgan caught Oâ00Garaâ00s inch-perfect crosskick and the crowd decided to acknowledge the Mexican branch of the diaspora. In the end we found ourselves wondering which was the sweeter way to beat the English? The last-minute sneak (Hand of Horgan, anyone?) or the ritual slaughter (Hands of Horgan, anyone?). As the copywriter would have it, â00How do you eat yours?â00
As I watched in my new favourite Northside drinkery (the Robert Reade just off Store Street, since you ask) despite lifting the hemline, Wales couldnâ00t quite complete the perfect day for us. Nonetheless, as I watched a Surge of Pride prepared for me by Mr. Reade, the thought occurred that there may well be a decent head on this season yet.