Category: Archive

Irish ruggers stun England

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Mark Jones


Ireland 20

England 14

DUBLIN — Just a few weeks ago, Irish rugby was a joke, but now the humiliation of the loss to Scotland has been all but forgotten. Saturday at Lansdowne Road, it wasn’t just a case of redemption for coach Warren Gatland and his players, it turned out to be one of the great victories in Ireland’s history.

The script was written with an England victory in mind; a triumph that would ensure their first Grand Slam in the championship since 1995, but Keith Wood and the rest hadn’t bothered to read the first draft. England had already wrapped up the Six Nations title before the game, and so they left Dublin with the trophy, but not the glory.

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The Irish were irresistible, defending in numbers and attacking in waves. Led from the front by Wood, who had one of his finest days in the green jersey, there were heroes all round the pitch. David Humphreys, recalled in place of Ronan O’Gara, pinned England back with a laser-like display of tactical kicking. Mick Galwey, 35 years young, raced everywhere like a teenager, and the unsung center, Kevin Maggs, was immense.

Gatland, whose job was on the line last month, ended up winning four of five games and only lost out to England for the overall title on points difference. For once, the crowd stayed behind in Lansdowne Road to applaud the players, who performed an impromptu lap of honor. Their opponents were presented with the silverware in the background, but the body language spoke volumes. To the slam-busters the spoils.

“This was the best day of my rugby life,” confessed a breathless Wood. “We’ve worked so hard and it meant so much. To see 47,000 Irish supporters stay so long after the final whistle to soak it all in and to remember the feeling was fantastic.”

Sporadically, England threatened and there was always the possibility that the game might slip away during those final gut-wrenching minutes of injury time. The visitors needed a converted try to steal a result and they piled on the pressure only for the Irish defense to tough it out.

One incident early in the second half epitomized Ireland’s resolve. The English wing Dan Luger burst clear near halfway, surged past Peter Stringer, and brushed aside Girvan Dempsey. A try looked certain. But as Luger charged toward the line, Stringer, with hope rather design, lunged despairingly and upended the wing with a memorable tap-tackle.

“A little fart of a young fella,” quipped Wood. “I know it’s a clichT, but he literally outpunches his weight. The incident typified the performance, because that was a try. Only Peter Stringer didn’t believe it was.”

For all their territorial dominance, the Irish led by only 11-6 at the changeover. Wood had scored a barnstorming try following a line-out and Humphreys landed two penalties. The expected backlash never materialized although there were obvious injuries to Brian O’Driscoll and to Humphreys. It was 14-9 when O’Gara was sent at out-half and his fist contribution was to kick a penalty. With 10 minutes left, he added another to make it 20-9 and by now, “The Fields of Athenry” was ringing around the old ground.

“We all took a bit of stick after the Scotland game,” said Gatland, “and it was about believing we could beat England. The crowd was just awesome, and to see the players do a lap of honor, that’s what makes sport special and that’s what makes these occasions special. And those are the things you don’t forget.”

Admittedly, England were without their injured captain, Martin Johnson, and his stand-in, Matt Dawson, had to go off just before halftime. But to dwell on the favorites’ misfortune would be to miss the point. Ireland plundered a famous victory, that was delivered with skill and, that dreaded word, passion.

“We deserved to lose,” muttered England’s manager, Clive Woodward. No, Ireland deserved to win.

Ireland: G. Dempsey; D. Hickie, B. O’Driscoll, K. Maggs, S. Horgan; D. Humphreys, P. Stringer; P. Clohessy, K. Wood, J. Hayes, M. O’Kelly, M. Galwey, E. Miller, D. Wallace, A. Foley. Subs: R. O’Gara for Humphreys, 60 mins.; E. Byrne for Clohessy, T. Brennan for Galwey, both 67 mins.; K. Dawson for Foley, 77 mins.; M. Mullins for O’Driscoll, 78 mins.

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