Rugby Union: Irish not quite in a rhapsody over Romanians

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The Independent Online
IF THERE is one thing the Irish hate more than being patronised, it is being favourites - making this afternoon's match against Romania at Lansdowne Road about as uncomfortable as an Englishman's head after a night on the Guinness. And there were a few of those after England lost here eight months ago.

That marked Ireland's full rehabilitation after a hideous couple of years and an 11-match losing sequence that had ended a fortnight earlier at Cardiff Arms Park, where Romanians as well as Canadians and Samoans tend to win these days. All the same, these autumn internationals have a habit of getting the Irish hung over from the drowning of sorrows rather than celebration even if, in this of all cities, the two amount to the same thing.

Never mind the record Lansdowne Road wins by New Zealand in 1989 and Australia in 1992; it is the minnows who have been snapping at the supposedly bigger fish. Argentina (20-18, 1990), Fiji (16-15, 1985), even Romania (13-13, 1980) have come to Dublin at this time of the year and done their damage, though, unlike the Canucks in Cardiff, none had the temerity actually to go home victorious.

The shining exception to this troubling trend was the 1986 Romanians, who were so strapped for cash they turned up in Dublin the night before the game, dined on crisps and peanuts and lost 60-0, which at the time was a record for a full international. Things are better now: they arrived on Thursday.

Not much better on the field, though. Last month they lost 51-0 to France, precipitating changes to more than half the team. They are scarcely a draw-card either. At a ground which is routinely filled for the Irish football team and for Five Nations matches, today's attendance will be even lower than the 27,102 who saw Canada at the Arms Park on Wednesday.

As the veteran observer Con Houlihan put it in last night's Evening Press: 'Tomorrow's game is provoking about as much national speculation as next Monday's meeting of Kerry County Council.' This would probably suit Gerry Murphy, the affable but this week flu-ridden coach, if it were as true after the game as before.

He is wary of the post-match reaction when Ireland are expected to lose, so imagine what it is like if they are expected to win. 'It's typically Irish that they don't give you a chance but if you lose you are the worst sort of idiot,' he said before the France match in February when Ireland were about to lose for the 11th time in a row, before they went on their two-match winning roll.

The Irish players have been staying in the quiet of Co Wicklow, training yesterday by the sea in Bray and keeping themselves calm and collected in keeping with the Murphy philosophy: 'Just boot, bollock and boot isn't enough these days.' The Irish Rugby Union suddenly realised in the middle of that horrendous run of defeats that if we wanted to compete at this level we had to do something about it,' Murphy said. 'It's not perfect but at least it's progress and it will get better.'

It already has with the enrolment of Mike Gibson, the all-time Irish rugby eminence best remembered for his leading role as a Lions centre in New Zealand in 1971, to help coach the backs. 'Thoroughly enjoying my involvement . . . a pleasure . . . tremendously impressed . . .' - the gushing Gibson sounds happy enough, and if he could be persuaded to stick with it beyond Romania and into the new year, that really would be progress.

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).

ROMANIA: V Brici; C Sasu (Farul Constanta), G Solomie (Dinamo Bucharest), L Colceriu (Steaua Bucharest), N Fulina (Farul Constanta); S Rosu (Sibiu), D Neaga (Dinamo Bucharest); G Leonte (Vienne), C Gheorghe, G Vlad (Grivita Bucharest), T Oroian (Steaua Bucharest), A Girbu (Farul Constanta), H Dumitras (Pau, capt), T Brinza (Cluj), A Guranescu (Dinamo Bucharest).

Referee: R Yeman (Wales).

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