You might not think it with all the movie and current affairs posts but I do have more than a passing interest in rugby. It’s 20 years now since I started playing and I’m still turning out for a junior team in Marys. It was my privilege to play with and against some of the current team in school so it’s really special to see these guys finally get the Grand Slam monkey off our backs. Nobody has a “right” to win anything in sport. You have to earn these things and they sure did it the hard way, giving many of us heart failure in the process.
It seems to be a requirement that Irish sports teams never do things the easy way. They always make us sweat, whether it’s the football team fighting to hold onto point securing draws or the rugby team clinging onto narrow leads. Munster have perfected the art of turning fan’s hair grey but it looks like they’ve got new challengers with this Irish team.
Messing aside, the season has been stirring stuff for the soul. The autumn internationals were nothing to get excited about at first glance but I thought fans were not giving the team enough credit for overcoming Argentina. Sure, we got a belting from New Zealand but they were a far better team on the day and the coaching team were just getting started. Come the Six Nations, things had turned around. Munster’s form was solid. Ulster had shown dramatic improvement from their previous disastrous seasons and if Leinster were erratic, they still have a lot of talent in their ranks.
To be in Croke park and laying rest to the French hoodoo was quite special. I remember walking away thinking that despite missing too many tackles and misplacing kicks out of hand, Ireland were the superior team. That might be down to the questionable selection policy of the French coach but you can only beat whats in front of you on the day. As it was, myself and herself were lucky to make the game. I was just back from skiing and despite coming from the airport, managed to miss the first five minutes of the game. The performance was “Munsteresque” and that’s not such a bad thing when it comes to proven success.
The Italy game was a funny one. We didn’t play well and the Italians used their powerful pack to good effect but their prop, Castrogiovanni gifted the game to Ireland with poor discipline. If Italy could get a decent backline to go with that great pack, they could really go places.
I felt quietly confident about the English game but knew it would be close. I actually got the closest score prediction on the Irishrugby email list for the game. In truth, we should have won by more but O’Gara had one of those off days. It says a lot about the team that they still managed to win despite not putting the kicks away. England were very ill-disciplined and might not have much flair but they are turning themselves into a team that are very difficult to beat. The try wasn’t particularly pretty but you have to marvel at how a relatively small man can force his way past such behemoths!
The Scotland game was one I worried about. I felt too many people were thinking ahead to the Welsh game and not giving the Scots enough respect. As if that will ever happen with a Kidney-coached team!
As expected, Scotland threw everything at us and were very smart in targetting D’Arcy instead of the expected O’Gara. The Evans brothers are very dangerous and will become key men for Scotland in years to come. Sometimes you need a bit of luck to come your way and it arrived with Stringer’s break and scarper through the defence. The only video available on Youtube is rotten but I do love how Stringer didn’t sidestep but rather arced away from the defence.
So come the day and come the hour and it was all down to a showdown against Wales. They had a triple crown and championship at stake and we had the prospect of a championship and first grand slam in 61 years. From the fighting talk during the week, it was obvious that the Welsh were not going to lie down and they didn’t. While their attacking game didn’t click, they were still dangerous but largely pinned to their own half. That was thanks to the sterling efforts of the Irish pack stealing so many Welsh throws and disrupting the rest. Come half time, I was worried as they had soaked up all the pressure and were ahead but a few wonderful minutes after half time changed all that. I love to watch Tommy Bowe’s try over and over as his speed on the charge was phenomenal. The bounce was somewhat fortunate but once he had it, Henson and Williams didn’t have a chance of stopping him. I thought we were gone after the Jones drop goal and it took a huge blunder by the same player to let Ireland back into the game with an attacking lineout. I’ll be remembering the commentator saying “and O’Gara has dropped into the pocket” for many a day! To see it nearly stolen away at the death was gut wrenching stuff. I felt sorry for Jones but that’s sport and he has two grand slams already. I think we’ve waited long enough to enjoy this!
The party went on long and hard but come the morning and the inevitable hangover, the best cure was to watch it all over again!