Sweet Molly sings different tune

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Whoever washes the Irish backs' kit today can leave aside the Persil Automatic and reach straight for the iron. After 75 minutes of Saturday's game, five of them had barely a speck of dirt to show between them.

They were seeing so little of the ball that when the Irish physiotherapist came on towards half-time it could have been to treat the winger, Simon Geoghegan, for hypothermia. The closest the Bath flyer got to touching the ball in the first 40 minutes wasa speedy challenge on an advancing white shirt. This evidently came as such a shock to Geoghegan that he had to leave the field briefly to change his shorts.

In conditions ideal for kamikaze aeronautics, the wind looked a certainty for man-of-the-match award, killing long passes, sinking penalty kicks and hijacking conversions.

Against these unpredictable hazards, English grit, brawn and cohesion gradually prevailed. The 6ft 10in, 19 stone colossus, Martin Bayfield, and colleagues withstood one shuddering Irish challenge after another. With the early exit of the man-mountain, Neil Francis, England began shrugging aside a still far from lilliputian Irish pack.

In frustration, the Irish adopted unorthodox defences. An Englishman was left rubbing his scalp and pondering the cost of hair replacement after he appeared to be slammed into the mud by his tousled mop.

Dominance on the pitch was repeated on the terraces. Unlike the raw tribal passion that accompanied Eric Elwood's triumph two years ago, Irish roars on Saturday were rare and muted. Home voices were gradually drowned out by the unprecedented 15,000-strong English contingent. A plaintive attempt at "Molly Malone" from the East Stand petered out before we knew if her cockles were alive. "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" was meanwhile reprised with increasing confidence as the lead grew.

It may all have had something to do with confused Irish identities. After hearing the English Home Counties'

accents of Geoghegan and Paul Burke, observers at Ireland's pre-match training mused about the "Charltonisation" of Irish rugby. Such ambiguity was amplified by Lansdowne's advertising hoardings, plugging such tangibly Dublin companies such as "British Steel Ireland.''

Afterwards, the Irish manager, Noel Murphy, seemed to suggest genetics were the root of his problem. "There are not many big men in any Irish sport" he complained when asked how he could match the English Gullivers. "Rugby is getting to be a big man's game," said a rueful Irish captain, Brendan Mullin, himself a mere 13st 3lb midget.

Long before the start the prognosis on another Irish win had been ominous. Two days before the match, far from quiet and retiring hacks had been driven by the English hordes' raucous choruses from the dimly-lit lounge of Mulligans of Poolbeg Street, a sacred domain of the Dublin printing classes since Brendan Behan was an under-age drinker.

After the game, in a savage parody of their team's inadequacies, disgruntled Irish fans outside the ground were performing their own action replay.

"OK - You be Geoghegan, I'll be Mullin passing," one called out. As "Mullin" swung the invisible ball into the middle of the road, the teenage "Geoghegan" outside him dived the wrong way into a hedge.