Category: Archive

Bring on England . . .

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Mark Jones

Ireland’s best player Keith Wood had never won a Five Nations game in his illustrious career. Same story for national coach Warren Gatland. So this dramatic victory at Wembley, London, was long overdue and the green hordes celebrated as if they had won the championship itself.

It was an occasion when the ends more than justified the means. Never mind that Wood and Gatland and the Irish rugby public had been waiting for a Five Nations success for the guts of two seasons. So while there was joy last weekend, there was relief as well.

Because in the final analysis, Ireland came perilously close to losing a game they once appeared to have wrapped up. A massive 26-6 ahead with half an hour remaining, the rampant green jerseys seemed to set to pile even more agony on a Welsh side which was stumbling from mistake to mistake.

While the overall standard of the game wasn’t anything to shout about, it was a compelling spectacle from an Irish viewpoint. David Humphreys put his penalty miss against France behind him and was kicking confidently. Kevin Maggs and the barnstorming Keith Wood had both scored tries and in reality, there was every chance Ireland would go on and run up a record score.

But the balance of what had been a no-contest suddenly changed as a previously dim-witted Wales began to play. With ten minutes left, Ireland’s lead had been cut back to 26-23 and another disaster beckoned.

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However, full credit to Humphreys, who finished with an impressive personal total of 19 points. The out-half had taken a lot of flak after the French defeat, but he stepped up to drop a vital goal and the Irish were able to hold out for a fully deserved win.

“We got a bit nervous when we were so far in front,” Gatland said. “The players relaxed a bit. They thought it was all over when they should have been pressing home the advantage.”

Manager Donal Lenihan was slightly less charitable. “I’m not sure what happened, we went to sleep and let Wales back in the match.”

However, there was consensus, including Wales who have now lost twice in the championship, that Ireland fully deserved a result which now sets them up for a possible Triple Crown. England, unconvincing 24-21 winners over Scotland, have to visit Lansdowne Road on Saturday week and then the Irish play the Scots in Edinburgh.

“We’re really looking forward to England,” a confident Gatland said. “I don’t think too many teams like coming to Dublin at the moment.” Certainly, the coach has moulded a strong set of forwards inspired by the irrepressible Wood and it seems as if Humphreys’ new found confidence has settled the out-half debate.

Wood, whose try was one of the most spectacular Irish efforts in Five Nations history, wasn’t looking too far ahead. “Okay, there was jubilation, but in the end mostly relief. It’s been quite a barren time and we needed a win badly.”

Of course, there have been plenty of false dawns in Irish rugby before, but this success appears to have real significance. If the good times are back after a long wait, let them roll. As someone bedecked in green said late last Saturday night in London: “Bring on the English!”

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