Thursday, March 4, 2010

Declan Kidney's Irish rugby side just won’t quit - Six Nations Hospitality

There is nothing new in an Ireland team beating England these days; it’s almost common practice when you consider that Saturday’s win at Twickenham was the sixth for the Irish in their last seven encounters with the oldest enemy.

It was still sweet nonetheless. As Jamie Heaslip said in the tunnel afterwards, beating England at anything is sweet for any Irishman, be it rugby, table tennis or even tiddly winks.

How ironic then that Ireland now needs the same England team to do them a favor when they go to France on the final day of the season and for the final game of the campaign.

We will assume -- always a dangerous thing when any Irish side is concerned that Ireland will beat Wales on Saturday week and Scotland seven days later when they say goodbye to Croke Park.

Those two results would guarantee the Triple Crown for Declan Kidney’s team and second place at worst in the RBS Six Nations championship.

They were deserved Grand Slam winners a year ago, and the Triple Crown awarded for wins over England, Wales and Scotland would be the least they could expect this season.

To retain their championship, however, is going to be a tall order after the collapse in Paris just over a fortnight ago.

This Irish team, now very much Kidney’s Irish team, had other ideas, however, and they are definitely made of sterner stuff than the squad that found the self-destruct button so easily at the World Cup finals in France three years ago.

Where heads would have dropped in a previous regime, they were held high from start to finish at the spiritual home of the oval ball game last Saturday.

Panic never set into the Irish veins, not even when Jonny Wilkinson drop-kicked England into a three point lead with some eight minutes or so remaining on the clock.

In the past, recent and historic, Ireland would have sunk back into their own half of the field, such was the relentless pressure from the English pack at that stage of the game. But not this Irish team.

A brilliant relieving kick from substitute Ronan O’Gara, a man with his point to prove, worked the ball up the field, and Ireland eventually won the line-out that led to the scintillating match winning try from Tommy Bowe and a conversion from O’Gara.

England weren’t done at that stage and spent the final minutes camped on the Ireland line, so you can imagine the sense of relief when Heaslip emerged as the defensive hero from the final significant play of the night.

When the final whistle blew the Irish team and the huge traveling support went ballistic, and rightly so.

The win resurrects the season, and Ireland could still end up with the Championship if England can do them a favor and win in Paris just hours after they wrap up their season against the Scots on Saturday fortnight.

Whatever happens then, however, the lesson from London was clear -- this is an Irish team that can bounce back from adversity.

With the next World Cup just over a year away and trips to Australia and New Zealand to come this summer, that was a major message of intent from Twickenham.

Ireland V Wales Hospitality

Six Nations Hospitality

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