Rugby Union: Weather window provides an inspiring view

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The Independent Online
Sunday morning tells its own stories as players emerge from the hotel in their own distinct ways. Carling with briefcase in hand, Guscott communicating cellularly, Catt with coat hood over a sore head. Common to all though is a bottle of mineral water, testimony perhaps to this professional age, but a pointer to another great weekend in Dublin.

The signs were ominous, though, in the week leading up to the game. We knew that kicking would play a large part of Ireland's game, and a mini hurricane Charlie seemed ready to exacerbate the problems. Thankfully we were blessed with a window of two days of spring-like weather. However, one of the problems to overcome when playing in Dublin is not to become over-confident as you approach the game. From the moment you arrive at the airport until the game starts, you are treated with all the traditional hospitality that the Irish are famed for - interspersed with plenty of requests to "take it easy on our boys".

This serene, ambivalent atmosphere is as totally removed from your 80 minutes on Lansdowne Road as it's possible to be. Straight from the kick- off all hell breaks loose and there seem to be 20 Irish shirts coming at you from as many different angles as Naseem Hamed's punches. As soon as the ball becomes loose they will swarm on it and wreak havoc. For about 60 minutes on Saturday things were no different. Under Brian Ashton's guidance the Irish are now quicker to realign in defence and form an impregnable wall. They are also more cutting in attack, without quite managing to finish off those breaks.

Once Andy Gomarsall scored his try on a poorly defended blind side, though, the Irish went two scores behind and were forced to play catch-up rugby. A strengthening wind helped us to pin them back so that they had to do so from their own 22. When we created turnover ball from these situations it was always going to be doubly hard for them. We were at last able to break some tackles and create quicker phased ball, and forwards and backs linked well to provide well-taken opportunities.

In team terms, our final try was a peach - starting from our own 22, almost every player was involved, if not in handling the ball then in helping clear it. It was the kind of rugby you see week in week out in the First Division and at the top of the Second Division, and at last we seem to be achieving this at Test level. The leading exponents of this style of rugby are the All Blacks and most of the Super 12 teams in the southern hemisphere. It is therefore satisfying when the captain of the All Blacks, Sean Fitzpatrick, and Saturday's referee from New Zealand, Colin Hawke, are impressed by how this England team is coming on.

Although we are savouring the moment, more challenges loom on the horizon. It is a big year for us to establish just how well we are progressing. Stern tests approach in the shape of France and Wales in the next month, but perhaps more illuminating will be the games throughout the rest of the year: Australia in Sydney in July, and what promises to be a month of mammoth proportions in November when England are due to play Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and New Zealand again on consecutive Saturdays.

It is Sunday as I write this, and the window on the weather has well and truly closed. Some people on the Emerald Isle may bemoan its lateness in closing; to me it sounds like music. Vivaldi had his Four Seasons. Winter is back and we enjoyed spring while it lasted. If God had a CD player he couldn't have played it any better.

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