Rugby Union: Irish optimism blown away

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Great Expectations? More like Gone With The Wind, in painful fact. Before Ireland's much-acclaimed victory over Wales in Cardiff, this correspondent got odds of 33-1 against Ireland winning the Triple Crown. Last week, those odds had slipped to 6-1. Which only goes to show that bookmakers are human after all.

At Lansdowne Road yesterday, a rampant England inflicted Ireland's biggest- ever defeat, by the largest winning margin, in the Five Nations' Championship at the world's oldest international rugby stadium.

Brian Ashton, who had been feted as Ireland's saviour, must be wondering if the fate which befell his predecessor, Murray Kidd, awaits him. The New Zealander was dumped after Ireland lost to Italy last month. Of course, yesterday's demolition was not entirely the fault of Ashton. But the reassurances through last week that all players in the Ireland camp were fully fit sounded more than a little hollow after this debacle. Eric Elwood, his right knee heavily bandaged, was clearly hampered by a strain which Ireland's management had downplayed during the build-up.

Jim Staples picked up what looked like a similar injury in the match, and David Corkery, with a splint on the third finger of his right hand, was a shadow of his usual self. Then Eric Miller made an early exit, and so earnest were the initial confrontations between the two teams that the proliferation of injured bodies scattered about the pitch was enough to make you think war had broken out.

None of which detracts from England's emphatic victory. To the very day, this was the 122nd anniversary of the first match between the two sides. England yesterday celebrated in style, running in six unanswered tries.

Afterwards, though, the England captain Phil de Glanville was quick to play down any Grand Slam talk. "It's a long way off. The next game [against France at Twickenham] will be very tough. We're not even thinking about the Welsh match.

"We kept knocking the ball on and we gave away a lot of penalties. But I was delighted with the last 20 minutes. It was a question of getting the space. The Irish tackled very hard and, at the ruck and maul, the ball was a bit of a lottery. As soon as we got some space in the second half, though, we ran some beautiful lines and the wingers were all over the place." Tony Underwood, like Jon Sleight-holme a two-try hero, said: "It wasn't until halfway that we started getting control, but we got our just desserts. It's onwards and upwards from here."

There is a great rugby affinity between the two countries, but this humiliation surely left Jack Rowell laughing, and Ashton pondering the meaning of sporting life. The playing of God Save The Queen for the first time in at least 60 years at Lansdowne Road was a fitting tribute to England's performance.