RUGBY UNION: Burke shows up peers

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Irish XV 48

Combined Universities 16

Much of the focus in yesterday's two-tiered Irish trial at Lansdowne Road yesterday was on the stand-off berth.

In the first game, last season's incumbent, Eric Elwood, found himself on the Irish A side playing an Ireland students' team. Having gone off the field temporarily with an ankle injury in the first half, Elwood recovered quickly to finish the day personally in credit as his side ran up 40 points.

On the basis that the best position is to be the leader in the club house, Elwood was well satisfied, leaving his challenger, Paul Burke, with all the work to do.

Half an hour later, Burke took the field for the Irish XV wondering exactly what was expected of him.

In the event, he did what he does best, which is to play an orthodox game based on his fine footballing ability; nothing too fancy, just get the basics right and move the ball quickly.

So that is just what he did and, given the overwhelming and almost inevitable dominance of his forward pack, he saw plenty of the ball.

Even by his own standards, however, Burke's distribution was top class on a day when a bitterly cold and swirling wind made things difficult.

Given that accurate line-out throwing was even more hazardous, Gabriel Fulcher came through the day well and emphasised again that he has the capacity to contribute as much around the park as he can out on the touchline.

He owed his presence, along with that of Mick Galwey, thanks to the withdrawal of the first- choice combination of Paddy Johns and Neil Francis. It was, after all, a trial - and trials would not be the same without a few defections.

In the same vein, the withdrawal of the current open-side flanker, David Corkery, saw Eddie Halvey filling that role and doing so especially well. Open side is Halvey's best position, even if he no longer plays there at either representative or club level.

Having said that, it was relatively easy for Halvey to put in another impressively athletic performance given that his pack were going forward for much of the day.

Once they came to terms, that is, with a spirited opening by the Combined Universities which saw them take the lead after six minutes with a penalty from David Humphreys and spend much of the first quarter looking the better side. This held out the prospect that it would be a more competitive game than one might have expected.

But the students had none of the cohesion or handling ability of their opponents, and this will be one area in which the Irish selectors can take some comfort.

The midfield of Burke, Philip Danaher and Brendan Mullin got it right from the start, which meant a heap of opportunities for the wings together with the full-back Conor O'Shea.

It was O'Shea's support of Simon Geoghegan which yielded the first try of the day on the half hour and from there the Irish side never looked back.

But while O'Shea's timing into the line is as good as ever - as is his ability to combine with his wings - the pace one has come to expect from the Landsdowne player seems to have slowed down a few gears.

On a day like this, it made little difference, but when the serious stuff starts against England in three weeks' time every yard will count.

By the end of it all, the Irish side were more than comfortable winners and the only question mark related to the injuries picked up by Jonathan Bell (calf) and Keith Wood (shoulder).

Irish XV: Tries O'Shea 2, Geoghegan 2, Galwey, Foley Burke; Conversions Burke 5; Penalty Burke. Combined Universities: Try D O'Mahoney; Conversion Humphreys; Penalties Humphreys 3.

IRISH XV: C O'Shea (Landsdowne); S Geoghegan (Bath), B Mullin (Blackrock), P Danaher (Garryowen), J Bell (Ballymena); P Burke, M Bradley (Cork Constitution, capt); N Popplewell (Wasps), K Wood (Garryowen), P Clohessy (Young Munster), G. Fulcher (Cork Constitution), M Galwey, A Foley (Shannon), B.Cronin (Garryowen), E Halvey (Shannon). Replacements: P Murray (Shannon) for Bell, 61; T Kingston (Dolphin) for Wood, 75.

COMBINED UNIVERSITIES: D Crotty (UCC); I Gray (Oxford Univ), B Glennon ( UCD), R McIlreavy, N Woods (Dublin Univ); D Humphreys (QUB), D O'Mahoney (UCC); B Keane, A Donovan (UCD, capt), P Wallace (UCC), J O'Callaghan (UCD), G Longwell (QUB), S Rooney, K Spicer (UCD), T O'Sullivan (UCC). Replacements: C Haly (UCC) for McIlreavy, 33; G Leslie (QUB) for Wallace, 65.

Referee: B Stirling (Ulster).