Union's grand gesture for all Ireland

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The Independent Online
As a device for uniting the people of the island of Ireland, on the games field if not in their hearts, rugby has the noblest sporting tradition. It could not therefore have been any other sport which contemplated an event such as this afternoon's Peace Match in Dublin.

More than 30,000 tickets have been sold and with luck there will be more than 40,000 at Lansdowne Road when Ireland play the Barbarians on an occasion which also has its uses in continuing the perceptible development of the Irish team during the Five Nations' Championship.

But over and above any tactical and strategic considerations - including an opportunity for the uncapped threequarters James Topping and Rob Henderson and prop Angus McKeen - is the simple statement the Peace Match is making by its very occurrence: that all bar a tiny minority want the ceasefire reinstated. Even if no one seriously supposes this message will be heeded, it is no less worth delivering. Rugby all too often has an inflated opinion of its worth but here today it can genuinely claim that it tried to make a difference, and that is at once humbling and uplifting.

Today's Irish team are a pointed expression of rugby's unity, this cross- border and interdenominational activity harmoniously represented by seven southerners, six Ulstermen and two Anglos.

This is what gives the game - specifically this game but also the game of rugby in general - its special connotation and the multi-national Barbarians' appearance does the Irish honour in both respects. Not even the withdrawal of the Baa-Baas' first choice as captain, Francois Pienaar, and David Campese can diminish the warm feeling.

In fact there have been five drop-outs - about par for the Barbarians - and of the others the injured Ben Clarke has, like Pienaar and Campese, come to Dublin anyway.

The match was conceived by Hugo MacNeill and Trevor Ringland, one southern Catholic, one northern Protestant, both members of two Ireland Triple Crown teams in the 1980s. In despair at the Canary Wharf bomb, they made their proposal to the Irish Rugby Football Union in March and, however inconvenient, the IRFU could not say no.

"It will be an explicit statement for peace - not in any way dragging rugby into politics, but rugby is unique as a sport in touching people and bringing them together in all parts of the island of Ireland," MacNeill said. To this end the match will preceded by a minute's silence for all the victims of the troubles that will speak louder than Lansdowne Road's more familiar raucous cheering.

IRELAND: S Mason (Orrell); J Topping (Ballymena), R Henderson (London Irish), J Bell (Northampton), R Wallace (Garryowen); D Humphreys (London Irish), N Hogan (Terenure College, capt); H Hurley (Old Wesley), A Clarke (Northampton), A McKeen (Lansdowne), G Fulcher (London Irish), J Davidson (Dungannon), E Halvey (Saracens), V Costello (St Mary's College), D McBride (Malone).

BARBARIANS: J Callard (Bath); R Underwood (Leicester), P Sella (Agen), P de Glanville (Bath, capt), E Rush (N Harbour); S Bachop (Otago), J Roux (Transvaal); G Rowntree, R Cockerill, D Garforth (Leicester), N Redman (Bath), O Brouzet (Grenoble), S Ojomoh (Bath), D Richards (Leicester), L Cabannes (Racing).

Referee: D Bevan (Wales).

England's governing body and major clubs are set for a final confrontation, probably next Friday. The Rugby Football Union and English Professional Rugby Union Clubs Ltd met yesterday, without reaching agreement.