Ireland’s bid to end 60-year wait

Ireland’s win over England, and Wales’ loss to France means that the men in green are now the only team left in the championship that can reach the pinnacle of Northern Hemisphere rugby by claiming the coveted Grand Slam in the Six Nations.

Ireland Grand Slam

Ireland’s victories over France on the opening day, Italy a couple of weeks ago, and now England have all been different types of games, with three different challenges – challenges that Declan Kidney’s side have managed to overcome. But the crucial question is whether Ireland can maintain this momentum and claim that elusive Grand Slam?

Ireland have won the fewest Six/Five Nations championships out of all of the five long established members of the elite playing nations. They haven’t won the championship since 1985, and haven’t won a Grand Slam since 1948 – their one and only slam. So, historically at least, Ireland don’t know what their winning formula is. They don’t know what it takes to win a championship, or a Grand Slam.

Yes they’ve won the Triple Crown three times in the last five years, but, ultimately, the Triple Crown is a case of “losing gold”, not “winning silver”. This winning mentality, or rather, the lack thereof, is perhaps best exemplified by the current “Golden Generation” of Ireland players.

Prior to the 2007 World Cup, Ireland were on a high. They had beaten the Southern Hemisphere in the shape of Australia, and were buoyed by the potential of their players, who, in theory should have been hitting their peak. I was at the Ireland vs France game, and, frankly, Ireland were dire. They weren’t much better against Georgia, and visibly lacked confidence against an Argentine side simply oozing it. Ireland, unfortunately, have a history of being that team. The team that gets so close, but then falls at the last hurdle.

But this has not been the case so far in this year’s Six Nations championship. Ireland’s opening day victory against France in Croke Park is easily the game of the tournament so far. A rampant Ireland side showed hunger, desire, and tenacity with a new formula featuring the old guard of O’Driscoll, Hayes and O’Gara mixed with the young blood of Heaslip, Kearney and Fitzgerald. The open nature of the game was a joy to watch with both teams throwing the ball around, and both teams playing with a passion and desire to win.

Ireland eventually won the game 30-21 and went into their next game against perennial whipping boys Italy with confidence. France, on the other hand knew that they had to dig deep afterwards. Since the defeat they have gone on to record a professional win against Scotland, but, perhaps more impressively, showed real hunger and dynamism to beat current champions Wales by 21-26 at the Stade de France. Without undermining Ireland’s achievement in beating France, perhaps they drew them at the right time as France emerge as very real contenders for the championship despite their opening day loss.

And then there was the Italy game. The records will show that Ireland won the game comfortably by 38-9 at the Stadio Flaminio, but those watching will know that it was a hard fought game with the score somewhat flattering Ireland, and certainly portraying a level of dominance which Ireland perhaps didn’t muster.

The next to line-up against the men in green were England, and, let’s be honest, the 14-13 win for Ireland will not go down in Six Nations history as a classic encounter. All the elements were there for fireworks, but all we got was a damp squib. Ireland’s battling victory has been written off in the press as a direct result of England’s poor discipline, with 18 penalties conceded and 2 sin binnings hindering England’s efforts – without which, the media maintains, England would have won the game.

However, as the old saying goes “If ‘ifs’ and ‘ands’ were pots and pans, there’d be no need for tinkers”. England may have missed their opportunity to beat Ireland at Croker, but, equally, Ireland missed their chance to put England to the sword, with Ronan O’Gara missing 11 points in very kickable opportunities. What would the press have been saying if the score line had read 24-12 to Ireland?

So, after recording a flamboyant victory against France, a professional victory against Italy, and a hard-fought battle against England, the crucial question is whether Ireland can maintain this momentum for another two rounds?

As an Ireland fan, I’m fairly confident that the team will go into the game at the Millennium Stadium against Wales with their Grand Slam credentials still intact. My worry is whether they can sum up the energy, dynamism and flair of the team we saw against France in order to beat Wales. Wales are hurting after their loss at the weekend, and will take out their frustrations on Italy next weekend.

They will also field a weakened team to rest their big guns for the decider against Ireland. Ireland meanwhile will need to play in a consistent manner to beat Scotland, and will more than likely field a similar team to that which has lined up in each game so far (injuries permitting).

But do they have enough to break down the rampant Welsh ? If Ireland play like they did against England, then the answer is simply “No”. If Ronan O’Gara sinks into a dark pit (as he did against Italy and England), then the answer is, again, “No”. However, if they play with passion, with heart, with the young and old guns firing on all cylinders, and with vigour as per their victory against France then the answer is a definite…”Maybe”.

By John White

9 thoughts on “Ireland’s bid to end 60-year wait

  1. As an Ireland fan I can’t help but thinking eyes keep looking towards the Millennium and overlooking Murrayfield. For the first time in a good few seasons the Scots have got danger out wide in the shape of the Evans boys, that and I have a horrible feeling deep inside that kidney is going to start with Stringer. O’Leary has been getting some grief but surely there is no need to return to the dark days of mini me.

  2. It will be hard fought in Scotland but the Irish class should show and they ‘should’ win. When it comes to the Millenium Stadium it will be a different matter; they will have 60 years of history and even more significantly a career as underachieving nearly men to overcome, let alone playing away to a side going for the title themselves who are playing with confidence. I don’t think this Irish side have a slam in them, I may be wrong but I doubt it.

    My predictions:-

    Week 4

    Ireland beat Scotland
    Wales beat Italy
    England beat France

    leaving us a title decider in Cardiff

    Week 5

    Wales beat Ireland
    France beat Itlay
    England beat Scotland

  3. As your new Magners League correspondent and an Irishman resident in Wales (even a season-ticket holder at a Welsh region) may I add my drop of schizophrenia. I have waited all my life (and a few years of my parents’ also) for an Irish Grand Slam. I am almost convinced that this may be the last chance. Such a small rugby-playing percentage of a small population can only produce the goods once in a while. This, for sure, is the “golden generation” and two more performances like that against France might just do it. Last Saturday’s game was dire and I have to place most of the blame with the Irish. England set out (again) with a limited game-plan – close down the attack and hope. It almost worked but only because of desperately limited Irish ambition. O’Gara had a “bad day at the office”, without which Ireland would have won by 20 points or more. The retrenchment by both sides, but again, with particular emphasis on the Irish, into the Southern Hemisphere’s kicking ping-pong was a disgraceful insult to fans.
    Enough of the past – I think (adding both emphasis and hope) that this team is good enough not to repeat that performance. I believe that Wales also suffered from the same ‘bad-day” syndrome and came up against a French side determined to show their natural ability. So – in my humble opinion – all to play for at Cardiff for Ireland and at least the Championship for Wales. As to the result, my head says Wales (just) and my heart Ireland – I have to go with my heart!! Roll on what is traditionally one of the great occasions of the greatest tournament.

  4. The New Zealand All Blacks have never lost to nations such as Ireland and Scotland.
    Who cares about your stadium naming dramas.
    You must accept the challenge of the Haka and beat us at Rugby.
    Then we will listen to what you are saying.

  5. Whilst we are on NZ (Bosco -not worth even thinking about that comment fourth formers shouldn’t be allowed to post in school time ) Wales usually now perform very creditably against the other Southern Hemisphere sides but tend to underperform against NZ (not always -actually should have won in autumn 2004 and the first half against them last autumn is the best we have played all season but the points didn’t come ). It’s built up in the media here that we havent beaten them for 50+ years and this appears to affect the players , probably not consciously but the barrrier is there.

    Ireland appear to face the same issues about the Grand Slam with the expectation etc and their media have been talking about it since before the England game . The result is that some of their players appear to be psychologically fragile at the moment. Kidney for example took great pains to praise O’Gara for what was a pretty mediocre performance at best as if criticism would have crumpled him up. THeir media is a bit ungracious about what they call “lucky ” Grand Slams too in Wales’ case , it’s all working up to hopefully a grand (but not necessarily Grand Slam) climax.

  6. That’s right Bosco – Scotland are a crap side. That’s why they crashed out of the RWC at only the quarter final stage. It takes a poor, poor side to do that doesn’t it?

    Never mind, only two and a half more years of watching your worn out VHS tape of your last RWC win and you might finally do it again and you can buy the commemorative DVD (DVD is a thing that’s been invented since you last won it by the way). It’s great and it won’t degrade after 24 years like VHS can.

    Hopefully playing on home turf you might finally be able to win it again and have some substance behind your constant proclamations of superiority to the rest of the world.

    You’re looking an awesome side right now though Bosco I’ve got to admit – just like you did in 93, 97, 01 and 05 – there’s a pattern there isn’t there?

  7. Yeah, but in hindsight I was probably being a bit harsh on him. After all, he has some insights to share with us if you consider the title of the post – he knows a lot about wanting to end a long wait being a choker fan!

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