Rugby Union / Five Nations' Championship: Ireland kick up a storm

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Ireland. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .17

England. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3

SO THIS is how the Christians must have felt in Ancient Rome. England had arrived in Dublin with a mathematical if very slim chance of the championship but they were jeered, booed and ultimately humiliated. Ireland, an inspired Ireland, a team roared on by a partisan crowd in a way that Irish teams have not always been lately, gave England what can only be described as an old-fashioned beating.

It was one of the most unusual matches I have ever seen. England won all the ball; Ireland showed them what to do with it. Irish rugby has always been synonymous with fearless tackling, intense commitment, enormous pride, triumphing against the odds.

If these characteristics were not evident earlier this season - and against Scotland at Murrayfield two months ago a few Irishmen were to be seen loitering without intent - then they were present in spades at Lansdowne Road yesterday afternoon as an inspired home team swept to its first victory over England since 1987.

And how the crowd loved what they saw. Every English mistake - and there were plenty - was greeted with a cheer. Again and again choruses of 'Cockles and mussels' rang around the ground. At times there was the bizarre sight of Irish players raising their arms to exhort the crowd to sing harder, louder and longer. 'Feed me till I want no more,' they sing at Cardiff. 'Sing to me till the end of the game,' was the sub-text in Dublin yesterday.

Even from the safety of the stand one shuddered at the ferocity of the Irish tackling and was puzzled at how often and how easily England were dispossessed. Mind you, even when they had the ball it was a liability because the carrier was exposed to attacks by a green posse. These were conducted by so many and came so often that one began counting the number of Irishmen to see whether there were 17 of them, or 18.

When men like Peter Winterbottom are cast aside as if they are no more substantial than a piece of thistledown, then you know that something extraordinary is up. By midway through the second half England were desperate, rattled, disorganised, dishevelled. Even men such as Stuart Barnes and Will Carling were unable to find the simplest of touches.

The moment that summed up a glorious and inspired victory for the Celtic cause came on the stroke of time. Ireland, who were never behind, led by nine points and had a massive superiority complex. It was clear that they were not going to lose; it was a matter of by how many points they would win.

At this moment England tried to move the ball wide (one wishes they had tried this earlier) but unfortunately Carling threw a pass to Tony Underwood that must have been three yards off target. Earlier Carling had missed a simple kick to touch and indeed throughout what must have been a very difficult afternoon for him, he looked anything but the cool, calm and collected captain he has so often seemed in the past. A wild pass such as this was an event in itself but on a day like this that was not the end of it.

Eric Elwood, who had something of a dream game, was just one Irishman to surround Underwood. The ball was ripped back, Richard Wallace was there to take it on and when he was stopped Brian Robinson took over. There was something irresistible about this move, which had begun moments earlier with an attempted sweeping attack from defence by England. Sure enough when Mick Galwey got the ball a few yards out he was swept over the line for the game's only try.

Not for the first time the Irish have turned things upside down. If they had selected this team and it had played then as it did yesterday then they might have beaten Scotland and thus now have won the Triple Crown. This remarkable performance, what's more, has given the Lions' selectors pause for thought.

The wing Simon Geoghegan, the stand-off Elwood, the lock forward Galwey are all men who have thrust themselves further into contention while Jonathan Webb and Mike Teague hardly helped their cause. 'The selection meeting will now go on a little bit longer,' Geoff Cooke, manager of England as well as the Lions, said with more than a touch of typical English understatement.

The writing was on the wall for England when they were unable to convert the feast of possession they enjoyed into points. At half- time England had had a line-out superiority of more than three to one. Brian Moore's throwing in, so poor in the Calcutta Cup, was a model of accuracy and Martin Bayfield seemed to win every ball that went near him.

Elwood kicked a penalty midway through the first half after a high tackle by Carling, and then Webb levelled when England were awarded a penalty because Phil Danaher pushed Carling.

It might have been 3-3 but the scoreline hid an enormous discrepancy in that England had had all the ball but were unable to make it secure and thus do anything with it. If anything this pattern was even more pronounced after half-time. To a crescendo of support, Elwood landed the first of his two drop goals. Then he kicked a penalty to take Ireland into a nine-point lead. When Webb missed a penalty a few minutes later one sensed that England's last chance had gone.

And so it proved. The last 20 minutes were all Ireland's. One marvelled at the way that everything they tried came off. The final score, the heaviest Five Nations defeat that England have suffered since they lost 17-0 in Dublin six years ago, gives little indication of the manner in which Ireland won. But it does give a fair idea of the extent of their superiority in this thrilling and, dare I say it, unexpected victory.

IRELAND: C Clarke (Terenure College); R Wallace (Garryowen), V Cunningham (St Mary's College), P Danaher (Garryowen), S Geoghegan (London Irish); E Elwood (Lansowne), M Bradley (Cork Constitution, capt); N Popplewell (Greystones), T Kingston (Dolphin), P Clohessy (Young Munster), P Johns (Dungannon), M Galwey (Shannon), P O'Hara (Cork Const), D McBride (Malone), B Robinson (London Irish).

ENGLAND: J Webb (Bath); T Underwood (Leicester), W Carling (Harlequins, capt), J Guscott (Bath), R Underwood (Leicester); S Barnes (Bath), D Morris (Orrell); J Leonard (Harlequins), B Moore (Harlequins) J Probyn (Wasps), M Bayfield (Northampton), W Dooley (Preston Grasshoppers), M Teague (Moseley), P Winterbottom (Harlequins), B Clarke (Bath).

Referee: A R MacNeill (Australia).

Scores: Elwood (pen, 27 min, 3-0); Webb (pen, 32 min, 3-3); Elwood (drop goal, 41 min, 6-3); Elwood (pen, 46 min, 9-3); Elwood (drop goal, 75 min, 12-3); Galwey (try, 79 min, 17-3).

----------------------------------------------------------------- FINAL FIVE NATIONS TABLE ----------------------------------------------------------------- P W D L F A Pts France . . . . . . . . . 4 3 0 1 73 35 6 Scotland . . . . . . . . 4 2 0 2 50 40 4 England . . . . . . . . .4 2 0 2 54 54 4 Ireland . . . . . . . . .4 2 0 2 45 53 4 Wales . . . . . . . . . .4 1 0 3 34 74 2 -----------------------------------------------------------------

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