O'Kelly locks up honours as the lord of the line-out

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The Independent Online

Not too many Irishmen could stand up after the win over England at Twickenham two weeks ago. Most had the same problem in Dublin yesterday, but this time it was the gusts not the Guinness that did the damage.

Irishmen have not seen gusts of air this strong since Terry Wogan last hosted the Eurovision Song Contest. Trying to survive that occasion or this one was tiresome in the extreme.

Little composure, lots of errors: misplaced passes, charged down and misdirected kicks. For the most part, this was a mess of a match. But you try playing with half a gale billowing around the field.

But there was one aspect of the Irish game which was the personification of excellence. The line-out, which had wrecked England at Twickenham, was again outstanding. Standing tall among the giants was Malcolm O'Kelly on the day he equalled Willie John McBride's record of 63 caps as a lock for Ireland.

O'Kelly was immense, showing authority, quality, aggression and fire in the loose. He was most people's man of the match by the proverbial country mile.

The Irish hooker Shane Byrne said: "I was very surprised Malcolm wasn't everybody's choice as man of the match. He was certainly ours. It was a big occasion for him equalling Willie John's record and I thought he rose to the occasion. If there is any question that he is a quality player, I think he responded in the best possible way. He has been outstanding in the last couple of games and he had another immense match."

O'Kelly was fronting up to oblivion as an international player earlier in the season when he was dropped after the match against France in Paris. Byrne said: "I think that probably gave him a bit of a shake and since then he has been immense."

O'Kelly, an ambling giant off the field, but super-animated throughout the game, agreed. "I think that brought it home to me that there was more responsibility required on my part. Perhaps I hadn't handled that responsibility on my shoulders before, I didn't take it on board. But I do now, I realise what is required. And now I just want to be involved, I want to be a Triple Crown winner next week."

If he faces the Scots at Lansdowne Road next Saturday and Ireland win, O'Kelly will celebrate the double achievement of the Triple Crown and a new record as Ireland's most capped lock.

They succeeded yesterday in the most testing of conditions for line-out men. Byrne said he had never thrown in such a swirling gale and admitted: "We lost four line-outs which is more than I would normally want to lose in a season."

O'Kelly concurred but said: "In the circumstances, we were happy enough. It was a very hard game for the front five because we were always going to be heavily involved due to the conditions.

"But we did a lot of good things and I thought our game held together pretty well." O'Kelly's try capped an outstanding individual display. It was testimony to his rapid reactions when he seized an underarm line-out throw to plunge over the the opening try. "I think I just reacted faster to it than anyone and no one was going to stop me at that stage," he said.