Saturday, March 08, 2014

IRELAND-46 ITALY-7

TRANSCEND

HoR pro logo greenMy denial could only last so long.

All throughout the week it wasn’t that I was annoyed by all the BOD hype, it was just that I’m way too superstitious about sport to look ahead to any match taking victory by a team I have supported since a boy for granted.

So as I made my way to Ballsbridge at lunchtime on Saturday my thoughts were dominated by worrying about things like would we be able to establish our offensive gameplan early, would we keep our discipline, would the Italians get an early score to give them confidence; all the usual rugby-nerd stuff that goes around my head pre-match.

Then around the 60-minute mark, the stadium announcer informs us about a substitution.

“They’re taking BOD off?” I said in disbelief.  “He NEVER comes off unless he’s injured?  But he seems to be fine and he’s playing a blinder?  Why would they……oh.”

THAT is when it hit me.  Whatever the stakes, and whatever I did to try and ignore the fact, this was always going to be much, much more than a rugby match.  So in turn, this needs to be more than just a rugby match write-up.

As Leinster played their first Heineken Cup match in Milan back in 1995, Brian was at Blackrock College getting ready for his first Schools Senior Cup campaign.   But although technically he missed the beginning of the professional era on these shores, it wasn’t until he made both his provincial & test debuts in 1999 that we could actually say the new era for the sport was in full swing.

You certainly don’t need me to harp on too much about how his career went from there….the Paris hat-trick, the Triple Crowns, captaining Leinster, Ireland AND the Lions, THAT tackle in Christchurch; we all know how the story goes.

But when I started this site back in 2008, I am a little ashamed to admit I had my concerns, and one of my first posts was titled “How will BOD be remembered?

“I believe the upcoming season is crucial for BODs legacy. He needs a string of outstanding performances, he needs his name regularly in the back page headlines, he needs to be the inspiration to meaningful silverware for his teams.”

Then came the 2008/2009 season.  Did he put my concerns to bed or what?

Again, you don’t need a history lesson to explain what happened in that campaign, but I would like to single out the Leinster v Wasps wonder try (which literally happened before my eyes at my corner of the RDS) as his “Mr Anderson becomes Neo” moment.  From there, his true value to his province, his country and his chosen sport began to fly off the charts.

We have all enjoyed the many YouTube moments that happened since, and even those who aren’t fans have respect for the regular supply of trophies that have gone his way.

But even all of the above doesn’t go far enough to illustrate what his career has meant.  If you haven’t seen this yet, best have a hanky at the ready…

We were not at the Aviva Stadium just to watch a rugby match.  We weren’t even there to say goodbye to one of the game’s all-time greats who is the embodiment of the professional era. 

We were there to celebrate Brian O’Driscoll’s overall contribution since he hit the world stage at the turn of the millennium, one that transcends way beyond sport and even beyond the island of Ireland. 

Normally I try to shy away from hyperbole, but after what I both felt and witnessed from the 60th minute onwards last Saturday, I have absolutely no fear offering those words.

But even with all of that, this IS a match writeup, so I suppose I shouldn’t shy away from some words about that either!  Though even there I have to mention the man of the hour more than once!

First and foremost let me be clear….there was NO sentiment necessary in choosing BOD as man-of-the-match.  There were many stand-out performances on the day, but even though he was suitably humble in his post-match interview saying maybe Sexton with his brace of tries should get the accolade, there was no dispute when he got it.

Well, just look back over those two tries and you’ll see that they wouldn’t have come about without some out-of-this-world passing under pressure from O’Driscoll, and he had a similar hand in Trimble’s five-pointer near the end of the first half.

It was a half that didn’t exactly follow the script, at least not after our opening try courtesy of Sexton after 5 minutes.  That seemed to be a perfect nerve-settler and we’d have been forgiven for assuming we’d kick on from there but if I learned anything about Joe Schmidt’s Ireland on Saturday, it’s that I can let go of this notion that we need points on the board early.

BOD n SadieWe always knew our defence was going to be capable of restricting opponents to 6,3,13 and 7 points respectively in four matches.  But what we also saw this time around was a definite air of patience throughout the squad that should a pass go astray or a ball get knocked forward or something similar,  we were well capable of regrouping and eventually the tries would come.

Having said that, I don’t think it’s just my blue goggles telling me that it was the forced substitution of Conor Murray that gave our offence the spark it needed to make the most out of the consistent front foot ball being supplied by pretty much everyone in green.

Murray is most definitely a quality 9 but his game just doesn’t suit the tempo that a 10 like Sexton demands.  And on Saturday I felt he was over-compensating in his efforts to get the ball away from the base and once or twice he missed chances to dart around the fringes and keep the Italian defence honest.

But despite all our early domination, all it took was the ball being jarred loose by a massive hit by Trimble (in fact I think BOD was even unwittingly involved in this try later as it came off his boot) and their winger Sarto was able to evade both Kearney brothers to level the scores after 24 minutes.  Were my pre-match fears more than just superstition?

Simple answer - no.

We may need to be sceptical about rugby stats, but there are certainly some eye-popping ones coming out of this match.  Over three-quarter of both possession and territory for Ireland forced the visitors into a whopping 200+ tackles, a figure that makes me need an ice bath for bruises just reading it. 

And their full-back Luke McLean (one of their better players in this series by the way) played a full 80 and was only called on for ONE of those tackles, which shows we were focusing our offensive efforts on the gainline again and again until a way through could be found.  Reddan’s 101 passes help illustrate that too.

Our set-pieces were good for the most part, though losing Castrogiovanni so early won’t have helped their scrum and the Italians were struggling to find ways past our second rows on their own lineout throws.  The “lineout-maul” option what has been getting us rave reviews was more of a weapon for getting us well away from our own 22 than it was for making much hay in theirs, but it’s still a handy weapon nonetheless.

Comedy moment of the day was the scrap between the two towering captains that was more army dufflebags than handbags and looked at one stage like somebody was getting an on-field prostate check, but other than Tebaldi’s intervention and a late hit from Sarto after Sexton’s opening try, there didn’t seem to be much need for Nigel Owens to go to his pocket and I’m glad he didn’t.

If I had to point out something that impressed me most about the Irish display, it was the laser focus from 1 right the way through to 23 - everyone seemed to know exactly what to do at every given moment be it the fundamentals or the “extras” like decoy running. 

There are always going to be moments of transition where we are caught unawares and if the opposition exploits that, well and good for them.  But conceding just two tries in four matches is an outstanding return for any major tournament so you won’t hear any moaning from me about a few missed tackles. 

And just look at the scoresheet - 3 tries and 19pts from the bench (including one try from the author of the best tweet of the tournament Fergus McFadden, who’s cameo may have scuppered Zebo’s chances) is nothing to be sneezed at.

BOD balloonAfter the results from the other matches, Ireland now know that unless England can win in Rome by over 50, the destination of this year’s Championship is completely in our hands.  I know a rare win in Paris is required, but on the evidence from Saturday we definitely have what’s necessary to get the job done whatever state of readiness the French may be in.

Plus, we still have the almighty BOD for one more match. 

Half an hour we stayed and watched that giant photo float around the pitch, as he brought Sadie around to help him wave goodbye.  Mrs P beside me said “Does anyone have a tissue?”; the man in front of us kindly turned around and offered one.  I came THIS close to grabbing it myself.

Not to worry - I’m quietly confident both joy and immense appreciation will soon transcend those tears. JLP

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Also this weekend

Scotland 17 - 19 France

England 29 - 18 Wales



P W D L PD PTS
1 IRELAND 4 3 0 1 81 6
2 ENGLAND 4 3 0 1 32 6
3 FRANCE 4 3 0 1 3 6
4 WALES 4 2 0 2 -5 4
5 SCOTLAND 4 1 0 2 -43 2
6 ITALY 4 0 0 3 -68 0

Ireland Women 39 - 0 Italy Women

Ireland Under-20s 18 - 0 Italy Under-20s

NEXT FIXTURES

Fri Mar 14

France Women v Ireland Women, 5:45pm

France Under-20s v Ireland Under-20s, 7:55pm

Sat Mar 15

Italy v England, 12:30pm

Wales v Scotland, 2:45pm

France v Ireland, 5pm

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