Hope springs eternal

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Rugby Union

reports from Lansdowne Road

Ireland 38 Barbarians 70

There is talk in the air of another IRA ceasefire, and dare one imagine that the simple expression of heartfelt public - and international - sentiment represented in the Peace Match may have made a difference? Probably not, alas.

The minute's silence observed by more than 30,000 of the finest people in the world that preceded the 16-try extravaganza was a soundless scream - the emotional greeting to children bereaved by the troubles, an overpowering expression of regret but also of resolute faith in the future. It was a privilege to be present.

Perhaps it was no more than symbolism, but that rugby, the great sporting unifier of the island of Ireland, could achieve even this was to its eternal credit. "We don't want children for the next 27 years having to put up with what I had to put up with - and other people like me," Trevor Ringland, the former Ireland wing, said.

They would prefer not to see it this way, but the occasion was a triumph for Ringland and his co-internationalist Hugo MacNeill, the northern Protestant and southern Catholic who together conceived the idea, precisely because of rugby's specially transcendent status here, in their despair at the brutal termination of the last ceasefire.

In the event, it was all they could have wished with even Mary Robinson, the Irish President, paying her pounds 20 for a ticket. Francois Pienaar, David Campese and Ben Clarke turned up to watch even though they could not play, and eventually the Barbarians were represented by a multi-national melange of 10 Englishmen, three Frenchmen, three New Zealanders, a South African and a Welshman. Of these, Phil de Glanville had least to celebrate, a knee injury making him doubtful for next Saturday's Bath-Wigan return.

Even in these mercenary times none asked for a penny piece, though a reminder of rugby's contrasting modern priorities came after the match when Pat Whelan, the Ireland manager, said that he could not name his close-season training squad because contractual negotiations had not been concluded.

To be thrashed by a pick-up team, however distinguished, was hardly the way for the successors of MacNeill and Ringland to increase their value. It was fondly thought that, with no summer tour by Ireland, it might have been beneficial as a way of sustaining the modest progress of the season. As it turned out, the Irish played as if neither their performance nor the result carried the slightest significance.

So when Whelan described the Peace Match as a useful exercise, he meant it only in the negative sense that it re-identified weaknesses of which he and Murray Kidd, the coach, were already all too aware. The diagnosis is gloomy, with Whelan's prognosis - that the Irish will do well to rectify their problems in time for the next World Cup - just as bad.

Indeed, had it not been that the rugby took second place to the occasion, to concede 10 tries even while scoring six would have been a humiliation, though Whelan, as is his way, insisted: "I wouldn't be too pessimistic about the situation." Which was a reminder that the condition of Irish rugby is always hopeless but never serious.

"We have major problems in terms of upper-body strength, but it's going to take years," Whelan said. "Most of our players haven't developed in any way as in other major countries. It's going to take us three summers at least before we can compete in that area. Hopefully, by the time the World Cup comes round in 1999 we will be ready."

This is hope based on, well, hope, and certainly not expectation. Whatever the excuses - time of the year, emotion of the occasion, quality of the opposition - to concede 70 points, five tries in each half and every one converted by the dead-eyed Jonathan Callard, was patently unacceptable. Or it would have been on any other day.

Ireland: Tries Costello 2, Henderson, Wallace, Burke, Topping. Conversions Mason 4. Barbarians: Tries Underwood 2, Redman, Roux, De Glanville, Sella, Rush, Cockerill, Greenwood, Jarvis. Conversions Callard 10.

IRELAND: S Mason (Orrell); J Topping (Ballymena), R Henderson (London Irish), J Bell (Northampton), R Wallace (Garryowen); D Humphreys (London Irish), N Hogan (Terenure College, capt); H Hurley (Old Wesley), A Clarke (Northampton), A McKeen (Lansdowne), G Fulcher (London Irish), J Davidson (Dungannon), E Halvey (Saracens), V Costello (St Mary's College), D McBride (Malone). Replacements: P Johns (Dungannon) for Halvey, 3, M Field (Malone) for Bell, 37, P Flavin (Blackrock College) for Hurley, 38, P Burke (Constitution) for Humphreys, 44, C Saverimutto (Sale) for Hogan, 47, Hogan for Henderson, 66.

BARBARIANS: J Callard (Bath); R Underwood (Leicester), P Sella (Agen), P de Glan- ville (Bath, capt), E Rush (North Harbour); S Bachop (Otago), J Roux (Transvaal); G Rowntree, R Cockerill, D Garforth (Leicester), N Redman (Bath), O Brouzet (Grenoble), S Ojomoh (Bath), D Richards (Leicester), L Cabannes (Racing Club). Replacements: W Greenwood (Harlequins) for De Glanville, 24, M Brewer (Canterbury) for Richards, 49, L Jarvis (Cardiff) for Rush, 56.

Referee: D Bevan (Wales).