Declan Kidney's Irish rugby side just won’t quit

There is nothing new in an Ireland team beating England these days; it’s almost common practice when you consider that Saturday’s win at Twickenham was the sixth for the Irish in their last seven encounters with the oldest enemy.

It was still sweet nonetheless. As Jamie Heaslip said in the tunnel afterwards, beating England at anything is sweet for any Irishman, be it rugby, table tennis or even tiddly winks.

How ironic then that Ireland now needs the same England team to do them a favor when they go to France on the final day of the season and for the final game of the campaign.

We will assume -- always a dangerous thing when any Irish side is concerned -- that Ireland will beat Wales on Saturday week and Scotland seven days later when they say goodbye to Croke Park.

Those two results would guarantee the Triple Crown for Declan Kidney’s team and second place at worst in the RBS Six Nations championship.

That’s not a bad return in any normal season, but this is no normal Irish team. As they proved last year, the team now playing under Kidney is a force to be reckoned with.

They were deserved Grand Slam winners a year ago, and the Triple Crown awarded for wins over England, Wales and Scotland would be the least they could expect this season.

To retain their championship, however, is going to be a tall order after the collapse in Paris just over a fortnight ago.

Ever since the advent of the Six Nations a decade ago, as opposed to the Five Nations that existed before Italy asked to eat at the big table, Ireland have been hamstrung by the fixtures.

They do get to host England and France in Dublin every second year which is a major advantage -- last year alone proved that with Croke Park wins over the English and the French en route to the Grand Slam.

It is a problem, however, on alternate years when they have to travel to both Paris and London. This year, just to compound the problem, the trips to the French and English capitals were back to back.

That’s one of the reasons why Saturday’s victory at Twickenham, the first since 2006, was all the more remarkable.

It would have been very easy for this Irish team to wallow in self-pity after the 23 point drubbing in the Stade de France, particularly so against an England team with a 100% record from their opening games against Wales and Italy.

Few could have offered surprise as a reaction if the English pack had indeed worn Ireland down post-Paris and maintained their own Grand Slam ambitions last Saturday.

This Irish team, now very much Kidney’s Irish team, had other ideas, however, and they are definitely made of sterner stuff than the squad that found the self-destruct button so easily at the World Cup finals in France three years ago.

Where heads would have dropped in a previous regime, they were held high from start to finish at the spiritual home of the oval ball game last Saturday.

Panic never set into the Irish veins, not even when Jonny Wilkinson drop-kicked England into a three point lead with some eight minutes or so remaining on the clock.

In the past, recent and historic, Ireland would have sunk back into their own half of the field, such was the relentless pressure from the English pack at that stage of the game. But not this Irish team.

A brilliant relieving kick from substitute Ronan O’Gara, a man with his point to prove, worked the ball up the field, and Ireland eventually won the line-out that led to the scintillating match winning try from Tommy Bowe and a conversion from O’Gara.

England weren’t done at that stage and spent the final minutes camped on the Ireland line, so you can imagine the sense of relief when Heaslip emerged as the defensive hero from the final significant play of the night.

When the final whistle blew the Irish team and the huge traveling support went ballistic, and rightly so.

The win resurrects the season, and Ireland could still end up with the Championship if England can do them a favor and win in Paris just hours after they wrap up their season against the Scots on Saturday fortnight.

Whatever happens then, however, the lesson from London was clear -- this is an Irish team that can bounce back from adversity.

With the next World Cup just over a year away and trips to Australia and New Zealand to come this summer, that was a major message of intent from Twickenham.

You can be sure the rugby world’s power brokers were listening.



From North to South

THE Irish Football Association in Belfast is upset that some of their best young players would rather play for the Republic of Ireland than Northern Ireland.

In fact, such is their ire that they have now reported the issue to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and made an official complaint against the Football Association of Ireland (FAI).

What a bunch of whingers. How dare they suggest that the FAI and Giovanni Trapattoni somehow have a case to answer because Darron Gibson, Marc Wilson and Shane Duffy want to play for the south and not for the north.

I understand that the Irish Football Association (IFA) may have spent money developing their careers, but I have a feeling that the clubs who brought them to England may have invested a little more.

What the IFA have to accept is that the Good Friday Agreement changed everything in Northern Ireland -- including the right of their players to hold southern passports.

They also have to accept that maybe there are some footballers in the north who don’t want to play for the bigoted supporters who hounded the likes of Neil Lennon out of international football.

It’s not politically correct to say that, of course. But since I live in a land where ministers for defense can expect to get away with telling lies in an affidavit, I’ll take my chance.

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