A night of real glory - and one nagging worry

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The Independent Online

This was the match that had everything. History, emotion, drama, physicality, pain, hurt... you name it, it was there. And long, long before the end, Ireland had established a psychological supremacy that may take their great foes years to overcome. England were forced to confront their own failings long into a dark, wet Dublin night.

Ireland had welcomed their guests with decency and honesty - and then they smashed them physically. And the 82,000 voices they had to roar them on their way at Croke Park simply turned up the emotion and decibels just that little bit extra.

And as if Ireland needed any more assistance to make their day of days, the heavens opened and the rain poured down, like Guinness from a tap. It could not have gone better for Ireland.

Mind you, there was so much more belief, an altogether greater desire about Ireland than England ever managed. There was a tigerish intensity about every-thing the men in green did, as if they had buried the demons that had kept them out of the game for so long against the French a fortnight earlier.

This match, no, this occasion, for that it palpably was, had fired Ireland like a spark on a flintlock. They were simply too strong, too emotionally empowered for England even to hang on to their coat-tails.

What we saw was the conclusive proof that it is Eddie O'Sullivan's side who will now go to the World Cup this year as the chief challengers from these isles. Had they played with this belief, this ferocious intent and determination, never mind accuracy, against France they would be on the verge of their first Grand Slam for 59 years, instead of the Triple Crown.

The sadness of their season is that they will reach the end of it knowing that they threw away their Six Nations Holy Grail in one moment of lapsed concentration at the end of that epic game with France.

Few teams in the world could live with Ireland in this mood. But why on earth didn't they play in this great vein against France two weeks previously? That is the nagging question that goes to the heart of this Irish team, and which O'Sullivan will be pondering. When the chips are truly down, they sometimes mess up. And teams with aspirations for the World Cup cannot let matches slip away.

England found themselves facing a human torrent of pride and emotion last night. The great stadium simply rocked at half- time when they left the field, and the Irish team deserved every bit of their ovation.

In one-on-one tackles they were vastly superior, physically stronger and mentally tougher. There was no time for England to play, no place to avoid the hammering tackles and crunching collisions. In essence, there was simply no place for England to hide.

Ireland cleaned up the ball superbly, thanks to their "dogs" on the ground, Simon Easterby and David Wallace. England's weaknesses were ruthlessly exposed. Chief among them was the indiscipline of the lock Danny Grewcock. When he was sin-binned, for a ludicrously premature offside, Ireland led 9-3. When he returned, Ireland were 23-3 ahead.

Given his past, dismal record, no team can any longer afford a player of Grewcock's woeful indiscipline. He cost his side massively at a time when the game was still in the balance. Nor can Julian White be exonerated for his second-half stamp that cost three points and punctured England's growing revival.

The Croke Park legions sang Ireland home to a famous win. And you marvelled at what this great game can do to people's spirits.

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