Category: Archive

Irish club England

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Achieved only once before by the men in green, in 1948, a clean sweep of the opposition in Europe’s annual rugby championship has now assumed mythic proportions and after this deserved victory over England, the dream is alive and kicking. Three down, two to go.
The next hurdle is provided by France, who come to Dublin a week from Saturday, but without tempting fate, the Tricolores won’t have the usual pep in their step following their unexpected 24-18 loss to Wales in Paris. If Ireland triumph once again, the final chapter will be written in Cardiff, where the Welsh could also be aiming for the Slam.
The incentive for this group of players who have dragged Irish rugby from the depths of despair at the 1999 World Cup to the current heights is obvious. Wins over their peers in Europe, added to success against southern hemisphere heavyweights such as Australia and South Africa — only New Zealand remain out of reach — have brought a realization that a little piece of history beckons.
The hard-earned result against England was achieved with more grunt than grace. However, to witness an Irish side starting out as favorites and then delivering on their promise was particularly impressive. In years gone by, Ireland would almost certainly have folded in the face of such an onslaught in the final quarter, but this time the defense was positively gargantuan.
“It’s a gradual process, but we’re becoming a bit more accustomed to being favorites,” Brian O’Driscoll said. “It’s really only this season that we’ve been able to start playing with the tag. We felt if we performed well we’d win the game, and given that England played well, too, it was a little more sweet.”
An intensely physical struggle was illuminated by one moment of sheer magic by Geordan Murphy that created a try for O’Driscoll. As Ireland’s captain held Murphy’s pass and defied gravity to keep himself in the field of play with 20 minutes remaining, the stage was set for a finish of monumental proportions.
For a while, England had dominated possession, and O’Driscoll’s game-breaking score had come against the grain, so it was no surprise that the winners had to fight a rearguard action in the closing stages. It looked for a moment as if England’s Josh Lewsey had scored, but a combination of Ronan O’Gara and Johnny O’Connor closed off the opening. Then Denis Hickie pulled off two remarkable tackles in a row to keep the English at bay. It was all hands to the pump until the relief and the luxury of the final whistle.
“Two or three years ago we wouldn’t have come through a game like that with a win,” coach Eddie O’Sullivan said. “Our defense was magnificent and our discipline outstanding.” If the day was a triumph of collective will, John Hayes, Johnny O’Connor and Anthony Foley were the most prominent among the forwards, while Murphy and Hickie caught the eye in the backs. If O’Gara was a little short of a perfect 10, he still kicked 14 points from two penalties, two drop goals and a conversion.
With England slumping to a third defeat in a row, their coach, Andy Robinson, predictably tried to pass off some of the blame on to referee Jonathan Kaplan, who disallowed a try by wing Mark Cueto and then gave Ireland a scrum when Lewsey was held up near the line by O’Connor. Robinson said he felt that Kaplan could have asked for a video replay of both incidents instead of making up his mind on a hunch.
“I think we scored two perfectly legal tries,” a dejected Robinson said. “It’s how we use the technology. It’s very frustrating. There was no clarification from the referee, and I tried to have a word with him at halftime, but he didn’t respond.”
Whatever about the legitimacy of the tries — both video replays later proved inconclusive — Robinson was right to criticize Kaplan, who called a poor game. However, when in the past bad decisions seemed to have invariably gone against Ireland, this time O’Sullivan and his players had all the luck that was going.
Equally, when Martin Corry scored England’s only try, after seven minutes, O’Gara was obstructed. “Sure, we got the bounce of the ball and a couple of decisions went our way, but when you get things like that you have to jump on the back of them,” O’Sullivan said. “Their try was obstruction, Ronan was taken out as clean as a whistle and it should have been a penalty to us. So, I mean it’s part and parcel of the game and every coach sees the game through his own spectacles.”
Corry’s try came as a surprise given that Ireland had opened brightly with an O’Gara drop goal, but the home team’s pressure meant that soon they were 9-7 in front, and then 12-10 ahead at the interval. A drop goal by Charlie Hodgson early in the second half gave England the lead once more, but O’Driscoll’s key intervention was only minutes away.
Hickie made the initial breakthrough and then Murphy’s sublime dummy pass created the opening for the 26th try of O’Driscoll’s international career. With last year’s European Player of the Year, Gordon D’Arcy, likely to be fit for the game against France, Ireland’s momentum is building by the day.

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