Sunday, March 15, 2009
Rough ride to slam
Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. This is Ireland's crawling, game-by-game, inching towards the Grand Slam. There's been no handy win, hell there's hardly been a handy point coughed up to Brian O'Driscoll's men. The standard mightn't be wonderful but Ireland have shown they can win any which way under Declan Kidney, a variety they perhaps never possessed under steady Eddie. It's been Munsterlike, the hanging in and eventual wearing down of teams - the mentality that means belief hasn't suffered in some tricky spots. Murrayfield on Saturday was another problem to be solved and to Ireland's credit, they did figure out how.
France came at Ireland with flair and running and angles but we spunked up three wonder tries ourselves. Italy fronted up as always with physicality but Ireland wore them down with phases and a few classy moments. England defended and defended but Ireland got through and defended gallantly themselves. Scotland brought a mad intensity and discipline and Ireland matched it second half. Hey, it's hardly the best championship for ages - everyone has too many faults and it's too erratic for that (come on, France wallop Wales and then get lollipopped by England?). But it's been dour and competitive and we'd bet that many an Irish squad of recent times would have lost at least once this season already.
Now it looks like a championship has been achieved at last by this group of players (the golden generation remember). A grand slam is in their hands even though the Wales game this weekend will be unpredictable; Jumpthefence can see a decent win for one or other side. It'd be a fillip for a generally underachieving group of players.(Though take note Mal Clerkin in the Trib - not every person in Ireland aches deeply about Irish rugby, I know heaps of absolute sportsnuts who couldn't give a damn about rugby. And please don't bleat on with this lifting us in a recession bull, a minority team winning a pretty poor six-team championship doesn't compare to Italia 90.)
But, seriously now, we're not taking away from this imminent achievement. Kidney's got something about him that lifts a side and makes them purposeful, businesslike and devoid of panic. This team needed just that. For the likes of Brian O'Driscoll (we admit, we may have got him wrong pre-season) and Paul O'Connell, it'd go someway to giving them what they deserve.