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Saturday, February 27, 2010

England-16 Ireland-20

FUR Ireland

[Update February 19, 2014 - You’ll no doubt forgive me for leapfrogging our last visit to Twickenham in our latest dip into the HoR archives! Some interesting facts about this 2010 clash…it was Sexton’s 1st Six Nations start, John “The Bull” Hayes got his 100th cap, and Leo Cullen actually got a full 11 minutes playing time for his country. Although reading back over this account makes me hungry for chicken wings…]

BACK IN BUSINESS

I had over 1000 words written on this match before a computer crash wiped them clean…I’m not a happy bunny right now.

Still, I want a record for posterity so I’ll do my best to recreate them, albeit whilst clicking “save draft” every few seconds.

I know there are those curious to know how I got on at NewsTalk’s “event” at the Odeon bar in Dublin, but I’ll save those thoughts till the end, though perhaps the inverted commas will give you a clue as to my overall impression...

This was, in my view, the perfect display we could have expected from Declan Kidney’s men after the setback in Paris.

Despite the fact that this is quite possibly the worst squad of England players I’ve seen assembled in the 30 plus years I’ve followed this sport, there were several levelling factors on the day on top of the home advantage…namely the conditions and the finicky applications of the laws by referee Mark Lawrence.  Despite Martin Johnson’s post game whinging, there were more than his fair share of 50/50 calls that went his way over the course of the game.

I’m sure it won’t surprise you to learn that I believe it was the Irish Jonny10 that won the battle of the out-halves, and more than earned himself a start against the Welsh.  If you looked at the stats from the kicking tee you may think otherwise, but given his huge involvement in our first two tries PLUS the degree of difficulty of all the kicks he missed, he can be more than proud of his display.

Though at the time I was bemoaning the introduction of ROG, after mature reflection, it now makes sense.  With BOD gone from the backline it was a good time to introduce experience, and I certainly hope Sexton didn’t take it as any more than that.

And on the subject of BOD’s clatter to the noggin…is it something about playing England that makes him get his bell rung?  Or is it the fact that those who do the ringing either are involved or will one day go on to be involved with Munster?  Either way, every Irish man, woman and child wishes him a speedy recovery so he can make his 100th appearance against the Welsh in a fortnight.

Even though there were a couple of lead-changes to follow, the turning point for me in this game was the penalty reversal brought about by the sheer stupidity of Danny “Devil May” Care.  He and O’Leary were going at it several times up to then and he let it get the better of him, and the decision of the ironically-French touch judge was totally justified.  Instead of giving Wilko a chance for another 3 points which he probably would have taken, it gave Sexton the chance to put a perfect kick in the corner which led to Earls’ excellent finish.

But the key stat on the day was the tackle count.  England made around forty and missed six.  We made NINETY-NINE and missed but one.  You have to wonder if the home side were good at retaining possession or was it that we were so confident of our counter-rucking that we were happy to give it to them.  Either way, despite Tommy Bowe’s brace of tries, Jamie Heaslip’s man-of-the-match award was testimony to the entire team’s feverish defensive work for the entire 80 minutes.

The weekend’s rugby action has, as it often does, left me with a few queries when it comes to the laws of the game.  At Twickenham, I was curious about the whole “use it” rule.

Several times early on Mark Lawrence shouted at one of the scrum-halves to use the ball once it appeared at the base of the ruck.  That’s fine, makes perfect sense in my book.  But when Wilko’s drop goal had put England ahead and time was running down on the clock, Paul Hodgson was tackled in his own 22 and seemed to hold the ball for half an hour before it was used.

Luckily, when it eventually was used and cleared to touch, the resulting Irish lineout led to a POC catch, a TOL swerve and pass, and a TB burst and touchdown for the winning score.  So justice was served, only not from the man in the middle.

Now…as for the Odeon, well, the draft Heineken was good.  And for sure there weren’t any gobshites blocking the screen.

But as for the overall wisdom of sacrificing the guaranteed atmosphere of Sinnotts for this, well, not so much.  Between them the Ulster Bank, NewsTalk radio and the pub itself went to so much trouble to get me there I thought they’d at least try to make a lasting impression.

As it turned out you wouldn’t know the bank had anything to do with it, and as for NewsTalk, well, I know Ger Gilroy is a broadcast personality of note in his own right, the fact remains that people want Hook, Popey & co’s take on the action and even if it’s for a rival network, you’re surely better off giving it to them.  What few words he was saying that we could make out from our seat at the bar rarely made sense in relation to the action that was actually happening.

Also I’m a bit annoyed that the girls with the trays of food didn’t pass our direction more often, and I certainly wasn’t going to go running after them.  But maybe that was our fault for our choice of seat?  We made up for it with a post-match visit to the Best Drunk Food Spot in Dublin (Zaytoons) but given a few more spring rolls, wings and wedges, we could well have stayed put for a few more jars apres match.

We did get one thing out of it…a mini NewsTalk rugby ball, which a kind fellow spectator seemed to feel the need to make sure we got before we left.  Perhaps I stood out a bit from the crowd with my wild screams at the telly while the action was going on, but it was a nice gesture anyway.

WALES-20 FRANCE-26

One thing Irish and English fans agreed on this weekend…they all wanted a Welsh win in Cardiff on Friday night.

Well the scoreline doesn’t even BEGIN to reflect how the game went.  France were toying with their opposition like a cat with a dead mouse early on, creating a 20 point lead without so much as breaking  sweat.

But the home side battled bravely, and were it not for some ludicrous errors, particularly wasted kicks by Lee Byrne, the result could have been so much different.

And here’s where my second query of the laws of the game came into play.

Why should a game be allowed to end with a deliberate infringement?  I’m all for the whole “game over next time the ball goes out of play” rule, but after Shane Williams’ late try I don’t understand how, once the referee allowed the kickoff to take place, the French could deliberately make it not go the required distance only for the game to then finish?  Surely the Welsh should have had the scrum back?  Not that they would’ve scored, but the way the match ended didn’t seem to hold up to what the spirit of the rules should be.

ITALY-16 SCOTLAND-12

Again I blame the Odeon for not knowing too much about this match, no sound on the telly at all for this one, but to be fair, nobody at the venue seemed to be paying much attention anyway.  Sad for Scotland but still, this tournament needs Italy to win matches and hopefully one day become competitive, so I guess I have to see it as a good result.

HOW THINGS STAND NOW

The Irish still have one thing working in their favour…the order of play.  Though it’s still up to us to beat Wales and Scotland by good enough margins as to negate the hammering in Paris, were we to do that, the French would then have all the pressure on their own shoulders in the finale against England, and would be forced to earn the Grand Slam.  There could possibly be even a further twist in that Martin Johnson’s men could still be in the mix themselves.

I predict that when they kickoff in that final game at the Stade de France, there will be a number on all our lips.  That number will be the amount England have to win by to be Champions themselves, and if they win by less than that figure, then we’ll have retained the trophy.

It’s the best we can hope for at this stage, provided of course you don’t consider winning at Twickenham and a Triple Crown to be good enough?  Personally I don’t.  Decco & Drico are winners and need to get the boys thinking like winners again until the fat lady sings in this Six Nations Championship.

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