Amid the roar of the crowd and the smell of the linament, one particular scene stands out from Ireland's five-act drama in this season's Six Nations' Championship. When Eddie O'Sullivan thrust Gordon D'Arcy centre-stage for the first match against the French, the coach broke from the script. He was absolutely unambiguous in declaring that D'Arcy would not fluff his lines; that the 24-year-old's Burton-esque days of boots and booze were behind him.
D'Arcy has lived up to the billing, which is a credit to both player and coach. From the hinterland of occasional international selection, D'Arcy has rapidly become a leading name on Ireland's cast list. Ask Brian O'Driscoll, who on Saturday became Ireland's fifth Triple Crown winning captain (Karl Mullen and Ciaran Fitzgerald both won it twice). "It's pretty clear he's a very talented player," said O'Driscoll after D'Arcy scored two of Ireland's five tries. "His broken-field running sets him apart from most players and, defensively, he rarely misses a tackle. I don't think there's been a better centre in the Six Nations, and I'd struggle to think of a better back."
The unspoken irony is that D'Arcy may get so good that he usurps O'Driscoll's position as Ireland's matinée idol, at least among the rugby-loving populace of this island. The captain can live with that for the time being, certainly while his team are achieving feats like this first Triple Crown since 1985.
"Not getting picked for the World Cup [last autumn] was a hard blow," said D'Arcy, who came close to being turfed out of Leinster a couple of years ago when he turned up for training smelling of drink. "But the belief in myself never went. Whatever happens now, I'll have these two tries and a Triple Crown to look back on." If O'Driscoll is Taylor to D'Arcy's Burton, all the sparks have thus far flown in the right direction. "If he gets a hit in, I am straight on the ball," D'Arcy said. "If I get the hit in, Brian is the same.
"Things are clicking at the moment. I was inexperienced as an outside-centre, but Eddie had the faith to play me there and hopefully I've repaid him." The timing of D'Arcy's first try, after Scotland had signalled their intentions not to be handed the wooden spoon without a fight, was perfect. The score was 3-3, after a penalty each by Chris Paterson and Ronan O'Gara, approaching the end of the opening quarter. From a line-out, Ireland flung the ball to the wide right, Shane Horgan cut an inside line off the wing and D'Arcy, at full pelt, ran in the try from 20 metres.
O'Driscoll discovered the price of fame, taking a boot to the head from Simon Webster, but D'Arcy continued to roam free. From a nervy spell while the score stood at 16-16 early in the second half, Ireland made the match safe with tries by David Wallace and Peter Stringer. Then O'Gara switched direction behind a midfield ruck and D'Arcy shimmied and darted through the Scottish cover.
The strange fact is that Ireland's pack played better in the 35-17 defeat by France than on this occasion. Still, the intervening wins over Wales, Italy and, particularly, England have boosted their self-belief. It is only a year since England were convincing winners here, and less than that since the green jerseys were humilated by France at the World Cup. But a record of 19 wins in 25 matches since the Five Nations became Six in 2000 represents a fine turnaround from Ireland's misery of the 1990s.
It is Scotland's turn to be lashed by the critics, and a new blow was the knee ligament injury suffered by the No 8, Simon Taylor. But their coach, Matt Williams, likes to laugh in the face of defeat - five out of five of them so far. While he was at Leinster, Williams gave D'Arcy a 'shape up or ship out' ultimatum. "I'm absolutely delighted the little bugger did it against me today," Williams quipped. "He's an overnight success who's taken four years to do it. The move to the centre [from wing or full-back] was something I wouldn't have contemplated, and Eddie has to be congratulated for that."
Among the other contributory factors are the ready-made regional sides in the shape of Ireland's four provinces, and the groundwork laid by O'Sullivan's predecessor, Warren Gatland, now at Wasps. The Triple Crown company next take their show on the road, with two Tests in South Africa in June. As things stand, the noises on and off are all positive ones.
Tries: D'Arcy 2, Murphy, Stringer, Wallace
Cons: O'Gara 3
Pens: O'Gara 2
Pens: Paterson 2
Half-time: 16-9 Att: 42,750
IRELAND: G Dempsey (Leinster); S Horgan (Leinster), G D'Arcy (Leinster), B O'Driscoll (Leinster, capt), G Murphy (Leicester Tigers); R O'Gara (Munster), P Stringer (Munster); R Corrigan (Leinster), S Byrne (Leinster), J Hayes (Munster), M O'Kelly (Leinster), P O'Connell (Munster), S Easterby (Llanelli Scarlets), A Foley (Munster), D Wallace (Munster). Replacements: D O'Callaghan (Munster) for O'Kelly, 50-56, 79; M Horan (Munster) for Corrigan, 61; F Sheahan (Munster) for Byrne, 79; V Costello (Leinster) for Wallace, 79; G Easterby (Rotherham Titans) for Stringer, 79; D Humphreys (Ulster) for O'Gara, 79; K Maggs (Bath) for D'Arcy, 79.
SCOTLAND: C Paterson (Edinburgh, capt); S Danielli (Bath), T Philip (Edinburgh), A Henderson (Glasgow), S Webster (Edinburgh); D Parks (Glasgow), C Cusiter (The Borders); A Jacobsen (Edinburgh), G Bulloch (Glasgow), B Douglas (The Borders), S Murray (Edinburgh), S Grimes (Newcastle Falcons), J White (Sale Sharks), S Taylor (Edinburgh), A Hogg (Edinburgh). Replacements: G Kerr (Leeds Tykes) for Jacobsen, 40; J Petrie (Glasgow) for Taylor, 42; M Blair (Edinburgh) for Cusiter, 58; N Hines (Edinburgh) for Grimes ,58; B Laney (Edinburgh) for Henderson, 64; R Russell (Saracens) for Bulloch, 72; Jacobsen for Douglas, 72; D Lee (Edinburgh) for Danielli, 77
Referee: Nigel Williams (Wales)Reuse content