Adrian O’Farrell is back, basking in the afterglow of Ireland’s victory over France in the RBS 6 Nations clash at Croke Park on Saturday.
There was a lovely, little Martyn Turner cartoon in the Irish Times on the morning of the inauguration of Barack Obama.
It showed the presidential nominee being sworn in uttering the oath ‘I solemnly swear to bring about world peace, restore global economic tranquility, solve world hunger…’.
Declan Kidney could have been forgiven for understanding how he felt as the tsunami of negative news stories that have engulfed us seemed to be laid at his doorstep as we pleaded with him to bring us a shaft of light.
As it happened, he brought a full moon and a pretty big searchlight.
He may have been a little fortunate to have been playing a France team playing like a France team of old. For Marc Lievremont was still working on his own regime change, as he attempts to finally rid the world of the overhang of Bernard Laporte.
And while some of his thinking has been unusual, you would have to have a heart of stone not to feel sympathy for the guy after the way he sent out his team in the best traditions of French rugby.
By running back kicked ball at us so thrillingly, if unnervingly, the French ensured that we would change tack.
After a first half peppered with kicks from the base of the scrum and a kick chase, the penny dropped that ‘actually, lads, we need to hold onto the ball here’.
Had we been playing anyone else, the consequences of this poor kicking may not have been so onerous and we might have kept at it all day.
The net effect was to produce a match to rival the Munster-All Blacks match for the quality of the rugby and excitement.
Ireland were by no means perfect, but here at last was evidence of the prevailing wisdom regarding the combination of Munster forwards and half-backs and Leinster three-quarters both doing what they do best in an Ireland jersey.
Of course, there are notable exceptions to this what with Jamie Heaslip giving a tour de force with admirable support from Stephen Ferris up front and Tommy Bowe continuing to make Neil Francis uncomfortable with his one-eyed criticism.
Did the Paddy Wallace at inside centre gambit work? Not 100% but there was some evidence to support the thinking.
However, Ireland’s first real attack with ball in hand was let down by an uncharacteristically bad pass that Rob Kearney could not quite pick off his toes.
The display of Gordon D’Arcy and the statement that came with his try means that the Ulsterman will be feeling the hot breath on his neck for the next few days, but I would expect him to retain the berth next time out.
Suddenly, we are spoiled for choice again. Even Paddy Wallacs parents, however, must have felt delight at D’Arcy’s triumphal return after an injury that the rumour mill suggested would end his career.
Ireland met fire with fire up front from the off. The physical benchmarks were thrown down by Ferris and Brian O’Driscoll, but there were a number of gang tackles that let the French know that Ireland were up for this one, even as the French dominated from the fifth to the twentieth minutes.
As the players review the video, they can reflect on an awful lot of positives. The lineout was accurate and while never entirely upsetting the French on their ball, they did shade this area.
The scrum was solid to the point where Heaslip could launch himself repeatedly over the gain line. The defence, while stretched regularly, scrambled well and did not lack for physical effort.
The gain line was certainly not lost, as has happened to us on numerous occasions against France. There were a couple of useful rolling mauls, rare birds indeed these days.
With just two penalties conceded, the discipline was unbelievable particularly while under such pressure in the first half.
The back-line alignment was much better and crucially they hit the line at pace, never more so than for O’Driscoll’s virtuoso try.
However, perhaps the two most pleasing aspects were that (1) Ireland understood where they were going wrong and were able to change it and (2) when the game was in the melting pot Ireland maintained their composure, played sensibly and closed the game out.
A couple of cameos stood out. Heaslip had a stormer and was a deserved man-of-the-match. While his try will rightfully get a lot of air time there was another crucial moment when, in the 65th minute, Ireland had France under some pressure having to win a defensive lineout inside their 22.
They duly did this, but when the ball was fed to Lionel Beauxis for the clearing kick, Heaslip squeezed him for time and he sliced his touchfinder and Ireland had the attacking lineout 15 metres from the French line. Ultimately, D’Arcy was to power over from this a minute later.
While Luke Fitzgerald only got limited opportunity with ball in hand, he managed to make an extraordinary 13 tackles.
Of these, unquestionably the most significant was the one he made on 77 minutes on Cedric Heymans which enabled Heaslip to force the penalty that settled Ireland with their nine-point lead restored.
There were a number of people who put a firm lamh in the air, even at this early stage, in terms of Lions selection.
Curiously for such an open match, David Wallace was not amongst them. Nor indeed was Ronan O’Gara.
While he had his moments, such as inviting Heaslip through the hole for his try, and his distribution was good, he did not control the match as he often does.
This was in large part down to how much of the kicking duties were taken on by Tomas O’Leary. He will also not enjoy the occasion when Florian Fritz blitzed him in the first half and he will be irritated by his couple of penalty misses.
In some respects, this is what makes this almost the perfect start. For while Ireland got the win that they wanted, and a massive injection of confidence, they are also aware that there are a lot of areas where they can improve.
The fact that the game was so exciting and offered a visual feast was a great bonus in a year when so many are bemoaning what the lawmakers have done to our game.
Whilst the players have adapted pretty well to the protocol regarding going off your feet, it is also clear to me that the referees have relaxed their interpretation.
In each of the matches this weekend, there were a lot of instances that would have received a whistle earlier in the year.
Perhaps they too are conscious of what has become of the game and are responding in the game’s best interests. It would be interesting to know if this has been a coordinated response of simply organic.
However, this is of academic interest only. We proceed to Rome with confidence restored and while Nick Mallet can hardly make such a crass error as he did with Mauro Bergamasco again, it would take quite a turnaround for Italy to take the points.
Now, Declan, repeat after me, ‘I do solemnly swear to wipe out the government budget deficit, recapitalise the banking system…’