Kidney targets 'hard' Triple Crown
Victory over 'hungry' Scots would mark farewell to Croke Park with a trophy
Judging by the manner in which Declan Kidney was talking up the opposition yesterday, you would have thought his Ireland XV were preparing to go 15 rounds with Muhammad Ali – Muhammad Ali in his heavyweight prime, that is – rather than 80 minutes with a Scotland side who have been floating like butterflies and stinging like them too. In the hotel across the road from the Croke Park arena where Ali gave the knockout treatment to Al "Blue" Lewis back in July 1972, Ireland's head coach spoke of facing "a hugely physical" Scotland team. "They just pummel you," he added. "They are very big. They are direct. And they are hungry."
They are that. Andy Robinson's men are positively ravenous for a victory, having gone tantalisingly close to feasting on three of them before arriving on denouement day in the Six Nations with just the crumb of a point from last week's 15-15 Calcutta Cup draw at Murrayfield. But, then, there is a big Irish appetite too. Ireland might have missed out on the championship main course, having blown the chance of a second successive Grand Slam with their 33-10 loss to France in Paris last month, but nothing short of a fifth Triple Crown in seven seasons will satisfy the appetite of the natives in the 80,000 crowd as Brian O'Driscoll and his side play their final match at Croke Park after four seasons as guests in the towering Gaelic sporting cathedral on the north side of Dublin.
Not that Kidney was taking a farewell dish of silverware for granted. "If a Triple Crown comes out of it, that would be brilliant," he said, after passing Gordon D'Arcy fit. "But all you have to do is look at the history of the Triple Crown to see how hard it is to win the third match. We really need to concentrate to get the better of what I believe is a very good Scotland team. They have improved no end and they have lots of points to prove."
They do that. In his first season in charge of the Scots, Robinson finds his side fighting to avoid the wooden spoon when they could – make that should – be going for a Triple Crown of their own. The fact that they are not is down to that lingering Caledonian Achilles' heel. They might have "the Killer Bs" in the back row – as Kelly Brown, who was passed fit yesterday after week-long tests on the effects of a head knock, John Barclay and Johnnie Beattie have been christened – but they are still struggling to find a killer touch. In five of their last six matches, Scotland have failed to cross the opposition whitewash. Nick De Luca, their outside-centre, has yet to score a try in 16 appearances for his country. Sean Lamont, the right wing, has gone 15 games and three years without an international try. Then there is the matter of Scotland's travails on the road. Their last victory in Dublin dates back to 1998 and their most recent away success in the Six Nations was against Italy in Rome in 2006.
"Perhaps Scotland have been a bit unfortunate with a few results," O'Driscoll, Ireland's captain, outside-centre and cap centurion, reflected, "but you only have to look back to November, when they managed to beat Australia. They are capable of big performances when the occasion arises. And I'm sure they'll see this as a big occasion and a big opportunity."
Ditto O'Driscoll and Ireland. They started at "Croker" with a choker of a defeat against France in February 2007. They want to finish on a trophy-winning high tonight.
Croke Park: Team sheets
H Southwell (SF)......... 15
S Lamont (Scarlets)......... 14
N De Luca (Edin'gh) ......... 13
G Morrison (Glas)......... 12
M Evans (Glasgow) ......... 11
D Parks (Glasgow)......... 10
C Cusiter (Glas, c) ......... 9
A Jacobsen (Edin) ......... 1
R Ford (Edinburgh) ......... 2
E Murray (North'ton)......... 3
J Hamilton (Edin) ......... 4
A Kellock (Glasgow) ......... 5
K Brown (Glasgow) ......... 6
J Barclay (Glasgow) ......... 7
J Beattie (Glasgow)......... 8
Replacements: 16 S Lawson, 17 A Dickinson (both Gloucester), 18 R Gray (Glasgow), 19 A MacDonald, 20 M Blair, 21 P Godman (all Edinburgh), 22 S Danielli (Ulster)
G Murphy (Leic)......... 15
T Bowe (Ospreys)......... 14
B O'Driscoll (Lein, c) ......... 13
G D'Arcy (Leinster)......... 12
K Earls (Munster)......... 11
J Sexton (Leinster)......... 10
T O'Leary (Munster)......... 9
C Healy (Leinster)......... 1
R Best (Ulster)......... 2
J Hayes (Munster)......... 3
D O'Callaghan (Mun)......... 4
P O'Connell (Mun)......... 5
S Ferris (Ulster)......... 6
D Wallace (Munster)......... 7
J Heaslip (Leinster)......... 8
Replacements: 16 S Cronin (Connacht), 17 T Buckley (Mun), 18 L Cullen, 19 S Jennings, 20 E Reddan (all Lein), 21 R O'Gara (Mun), 22 R Kearney (Lein)
Referee J Kaplan (SA)
Venue Croke Park
Kick-off 5pm .....................TV BBC 1
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