Rugby Union: Irish enjoy the knowledge that a win's the thing

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Ireland. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .25

Romania . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3

WALES would have killed for a result like this, though on the other hand a performance like this against Canada would have been greeted almost as dismissively as the awful reality of a humiliating defeat. At least the Irish won the damn thing.

We should, however, take the instant wisdom of Noel Murphy, Ireland's manager, with either a pinch of salt or several pints of Guinness. 'The verdict is very simple: it's a win,' he said. 'Perhaps the people might have felt we should have won by more and perhaps people might have gone away disappointed.'

Perhaps? Definitely, even if you can look at it two ways. One is that Ireland are on their longest winning streak, all of three matches, since the Triple Crown of 1982. The other is that after the preceding 11 consecutive defeats a win, any win, is a matter for rejoicing.

At such times the Irish know how to jubilate - witness the unbridled scenes after the routing of the English in March. Instead, on a sodden Saturday in Dublin, the atmosphere was unbridledly muted, as if the conclusive, but scarcely handsome victory, had been an opportunity lost rather than taken.

There were excuses. The conditions, for one thing, were appalling - akin to the match here in 1987 when the England coach, Martin Green, said his team had come to Dublin of all places without a wet- weather strategy. It came down in stair-rods and England lost 17-0.

Mind you, the Irish are never short of such a strategy because that is the way they always play, wet or dry. The Romanians had said that they wanted to run the ball but, if so, that would have been the first time in living memory and in the event the rain did nothing but assist the endless spoiling to which their rugby is these days reduced.

It was nowhere near as bad as their 51-0 hiding in France last month, nor indeed the 60-0 hiding which Ireland administered in 1986 but this time they did get to Dublin on Thursday night as opposed to Friday night and at the Irish RFU's expense were victualled on something more substantial than peanuts and crisps. To concede only one try was a considerable achievement.

At the same time, Eric Elwood's half-dozen penalties - equalling Ollie Campbell's Ireland record, set against Scotland during that three- match winning run in 1982 - perfectly reflected the way they played. Like the Canadians in Cardiff (and, one might add, the All Blacks through England and Scotland and the Irish from time immemorial), they were perfectly content to infringe if the trade-off of penalty for potential try was more profitable.

Thus they regularly fell foul first of Robert Yeman (know in Dublin as Robert Yer Man), who showed that refereeing is one thing Welsh rugby still does tolerably well, and then of Elwood, whose 20 unerring points were only three off Ralph Keyes's Irish best. In his kicking of the ball, Elwood was as faultless as he had famously been against Wales and England eight months ago.

In the more expansive aspects he was less commendable. Possession flowed, in particular from Neil Francis in the line-out, and Simon Geoghegan's try demonstrated that even these filthy conditions were occasionally surmountable. But Elwood persistently ignored the men outside him, no matter how promising the circumstances. The trouble was he then kicked so well that the gasps of frustration from 20,200 throats instantly turned to roars of approval as he secured huge chunks of territory.

'If the best option is to kick, you kick,' Michael Bradley, the Irish captain, intoned. And Elwood did, to death. But would it not have been at least fairer to the threequarters to have given them the chance to drop the ball? 'Giving them the chance to drop the ball would have been an initiative the Romanians could have fed off,' Bradley retorted.

If this betrayed innate conservatism, so did the tactical choice on the rare occasions the ball passed beyond Elwood. Using as slender a centre as Vincent Cunningham to run crash-balls, especially into tackling as decisively all-embracing as Romania's, was a waste of time.

Still, the Romanians contributed even less to such little creativity as the game contained. There was a late flurry by Neaga, Brici and Brinza which almost brought a try for Andrei Guranescu and a penalty by Stefan Rosu, an outside-half remarkable for having no obvious idea of how to kick no matter how often he tried.

Otherwise the odd trundle by the props, Gheorghe Leonte and Gabriel Vlad, was unfailingly impaled on sharp Irish defence. 'We believe that by sticking to the general pattern we could develop into a good side again,' Teodor Radulescu, the coach, said. In which case there would be no hope, since the 'general pattern' consisted of nothing more than Rosu's hoofing the leather off the ball - and very badly at that.

At least Ireland had a try worthy of cherishing. Bradley, not for the first time, lobbed a donkey-drop in Elwood's direction but the outside- half exploited the pass better than it deserved and linked with Philip Danaher and the new full-back, Conor O'Shea, whose inaccurate

final pass forced not only Geoghegan but the remains of the Romanian cover to check.

Geoghegan re-accelerated before his would-be tacklers and excelled to complete the move. 'He got his first try for a number of seasons - and that's something we promised him,' Gerry Murphy, the Irish coach, said. 'It would be nice to see Simon getting the ball all the time. Realistically it's not always possible.' Not always? Hardly ever.

Ireland: Try Geoghegan; Conversion Elwood; Penalties Elwood 6. Romania: Penalty Rosu.

IRELAND: C O'Shea (Lansdowne); R Wallace (Garryowen), V Cunningham (St Mary's College), P Danaher (Garryowen), S Geoghegan (London Irish); E Elwood (Lansdowne), M Bradley (Constitution, capt); N Popplewell (Greystones), T Kingston (Dolphin), G Halpin (London Irish), P Johns (Dungannon), N Francis (Old Belvedere), M Galwey (Shannon), B Robinson (Ballymena), D McBride (Malone). Replacement: P McCarthy (Constitution) for Popplewell, 76.

ROMANIA: V Brici; C Sasu (Farul Constanta), G Solomie (Universitate Timisoara), N Fulina (Farul Constanta), L Colceriu (Steaua Bucharest); S Rosu (Forest Sibiu), D Neaga (Dinamo Bucharest); G Leonte (Vienne), C Gheorghe, G Vlad (Grivita Bucharest), A Girbu (Farul Constanta), T Oroian (Steaua Bucharest), H Dumitras (Pau, capt), T Brinza (Universitate Cluj), A Guranescu (Dinamo Bucharest). Replacement: C Cojocariu (Bayonne) for Girbu, 43. Temporary substitute: N Marin (Farul Constanta) for Cojocariu, 67-71.

Referee: R Yeman (Wales).