Stout hearts sink in the exiles' bar

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The Independent Online

It was the day that one small corner of England became, for some 90 minutes, a foreign playing field for 50 or so people gathered in the London Irish clubhouse in leafy suburban Sunbury-on-Thames.

It was the day that one small corner of England became, for some 90 minutes, a foreign playing field for 50 or so people gathered in the London Irish clubhouse in leafy suburban Sunbury-on-Thames.

Twenty minutes left before the kick-off the fans started drifting in seemingly relaxed and even casual about one of the most momentous days in the history of the International Rugby Championship. But once the sound of the television coverage was piped through the loudspeakers that impression of cool was quickly shattered.

The blinds came down along the length of the bar, shutting out south-west London and transporting those within to Dublin. Suddenly Sunbury-on-Thames was Lansdowne Road, in spirit at least. The anthems drew shouts of "stand up boys, stand up!" to a group of London Irish Under-16s who had just finished a match of their own. Then a handful of other voices joined in with the singing.

As the Guinness flowed, the denizens of the darkened bar suffered a roller-coaster ride. Every Irish tackle on an Englishman was cheered. Every England point was jeered – well nearly. An English interloper, club member Joe Wadsworth, admitted to Irish ancestry but insisted: "I live over here, I'm definitely English." He applauded the men in white whenever they breached Ireland's defences, but was invariably drowned out by the rest of the gang.

After half-time things grew quieter. Anguished cries followed as yet another Irish attack came to naught and time began to run out.

When it was all over no one was weeping exactly, indeed there was a degree of stoicism and even sportsmanship. Finnbarr Kelly, the coach of the London Irish Under-16s, said: "We were beaten by a better side although perhaps the scoreline flatters them a little."

They all took a certain amount of pride when England's veteran prop, Jason Leonard, went up to collect his medal. Pat McGarry, another who helped out with the Under-16s, claimed: "Of course Jason's Irish," with Kelly adding: "His family comes from Dublin originally."

SIX NATIONS FINAL TABLE

P W D L F A T Pts
England 5 5 0 0 173 46 18 10
Ireland 5 4 0 1 119 97 10 8
France 5 3 0 2 153 75 17 6
Scotland 5 2 0 3 81 161 7 4
Italy 5 1 0 4 100 185 12 2
Wales 5 0 0 5 82 144 10 0

RESULTS: 15 February: England 25 France 17; Italy 30 Wales 22. 16 Feb: Scotland 6 Ireland 36. 22 Feb: Italy 13 Ireland 37; Wales 9 England 26. 23 Feb: France 38 Scotland 3. 8 Mar: Ireland 15 France 12; Scotland 30 Wales 22. 9 Mar: England 40 Italy 5. 22 Mar: Wales 24 Ireland 25; England 40 Scotland 9. 23 Mar: Italy 27 France 53. 29 Mar: France 33 Wales 5; Scotland 33 Italy 25. 30 Mar: Ireland 6 England 42.

GRAND SLAMS WINS
England 12
Wales 8
France 7
Scotland 3
Ireland 1

ENGLAND'S GRAND SLAMS: 1913, 1914, 1921, 1923, 1924, 1928, 1957, 1980, 1991, 1992, 1995, 2003.

CHAMPIONSHIP WINS
England 25
Wales 22
Scotland 14
France 13
Ireland 10

Only outright wins included; tournament began in 1883

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