Ruck and Maul: Harrington's Open a good omen for Irish after brolly poor show

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The Independent Online

When Ireland won their one and only Grand Slam, back in 1948, the reigning Open golf champion was the Irishman Fred Daly. So, 61 years on, the omens are looking good for a belated celebration. Brian O'Driscoll's team, top of the Six Nations with three wins out of three, are odds-on to beat Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday, although, as they say in golf, it is not a "gimme". Still, the current Open champion is the Dubliner Padraig Harrington. Last week at Dublin's Croke Park, where England's record is likely to remain forever at played two, lost two, 82,000 spectators were advised to take umbrellas by the weather forecasters, who said it was going to lash down. It was bad advice all round as thousands of golf umbrellas were confiscated at the entrances. They were deemed potential weapons. When England next visit Dublin they will play, not at Croker, but the new, super-duper Lansdowne Road. Sorry, it's not called that any more. It's called the Norwich Union Stadium. Sorry, no it's not, they've changed their name to Aviva... and their shares have crashed.

Tom a hawk towards union

The tom-toms are beating at Twickenham. Tom Walkinshaw of Gloucester stepped down last week as chairman of Premier Rugby after what at times was a bruising four-year battle with the Rugby Football Union. His successor is Peter Tom, one of the big hitters at Leicester, and his appointment has not put a spring in the step of the RFU. The two can barely agree on anything, least of all the latest hot dispute. The Premiership clubs want to play more matches next season to generate extra income, at the expense of the EDF Anglo-Welsh Cup. The RFU claim that many of the clubs, by fielding weakened teams and not taking the competition seriously, are throwing away £4 million. The teams in the second-tier championship are prepared to step into the breach.

Southern cross to bear

Life is not getting any easier for Martin Johnson. He has had little sympathy from the card-waving South African referees Mark Lawrence, Jonathan Kaplan and Craig Joubert, who were the whistleblowers for England's Six Nations matches against Italy, Wales and Ireland respectively. As a respite, Johnno was looking forward to a European ref for the Calcutta Cup match with Scotland on 21 March, but the French official Joel Jutge has withdrawn because he is "not fit". No conspiracy theories, but guess what? He is replaced by Marius Jonker, who happens to be a South African. It's not true that he has been issued with a fresh deck of yellow cards. Meanwhile the referee for England's toughie against France a week today at Twickenham is one Stuart Dickinson of Australia, who was the video official who ruled out Mark Cueto's "try" in the World Cup final against South Africa in 2007. There is more. When Simon Shaw was sent off in New Zealand in 2004, the touch judge who recommended a red card was... Dickinson. England, though, appear to be learning a lesson. On Friday Brian Smith, the Red Rose attack coach whose greatest offensive so far this season has been his criticism of Kaplan's handling of the match against Wales, issued a public apology. "Jonathan," Smith said, "is one of the best referees in the world." With such a charm offensive, it will be no surprise if Stuart and Marius receive a bunch of red roses.

t.glover@independent.co.uk

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