Killian Woods couldn’t bring himself to watch the final moment of Ireland’s Grandslam win, but has since heard that Stephen Jones missed…
“WHAT BALLS”, SEEMED to sum it all up in Paul O’Connell’s mind. The inspirational forward could only find the positives in his team-mates after the narrow win over the Welsh in the Grand Slam decider at the Millennium stadium in Cardiff on Saturday evening.
Ireland captain, Brian O’Driscoll meanwhile, was merely reflective on the night as his side gave the glooming Irish nation a much-needed lift in these times of recession.
With the 6 Nations championship virtually assured since last week after Wales failed to rack up sufficient points against Italy, Ireland showed the desire and determination to push on and leave Wales with nothing to celebrate.
Overall it could be said that neither side performed badly. Both the teams’ defences stood strong with Wales courageously withstanding huge Irish pressure in the first quarter.
The game took its time to burst into life. It could be questioned that some nerves affected Irish composure in the first half. O’Driscoll saw his Fitzgerald-bound pass on the try line drift forward as the Welsh took a six point lead into the break despite much of the territorial possession belonging to the Irish.
The Welsh adopted a similar approach to most teams who played Ireland in the tournament as towering centre, Tom Shanklin continuously targeted O’Gara’s channel in the first phases.
However, Ireland came out strong after the break as the Irish back line blitzed the Welsh with two tries in two minutes. Yet again the ever-present O’Driscoll pushed forward from a ruck and barely shaved the line with the ball, while Tommy Bowe can consider himself lucky to be on the end of an O’Gara chip.
As time went on, Wales inched closer and closer to cutting the eight-point gap which was opened after Ireland’s two tries. The Irish nearly seemed determined to win the match in dramatic style as costly errors in the last ten minutes kept Welsh tails up.
Missed Irish tackles in their own 22 allowed the Welsh pack to set up Jones for a drop kick in the last five minutes. However after the drop kick, Jones turned villain as he fell victim to the Experimental Law Variations (ELVs), conceding a line out in his own 22. The following play resulted in the decisive drop kick slotted over by O’Gara that put Ireland narrowly ahead of Wales.
Yet there was still enough time for Ireland to nearly throw all their hard work away. As the country stood still, grown men and devoted rugby supporters refused to watch as Jones’ kick fell short.
“Yet again the effervescent O’Driscoll pushed forward from a ruck and barely shaved the line with the ball, while seconds later Tommy Bowe was the beneficiary of a lucky bounce from an O’Gara chip”
The papers could have a different headline had that kick went over. Sole emphasis could have been placed on the rash actions of Paddy Wallace near half way where the penalty was unnecessarily given away.
Though both teams performed valiantly throughout the match, Wales were made to look like amateurs in the line out department as O’Connell almost single-handedly disrupted Welsh set piece ball. Though, the Irish were also guilty at the line out with indiscipline in dangerous areas of the pitch allowing Stephen Jones to keep Wales in the match right to the end.
Yet, looking past the minor negatives, Ireland has won the Grand Slam and proved that they are the best team in the tournament. Over the course of the competition Ireland never looked down-and-out and were always in the lead going into the final ten minutes of each match.
Though it could be said that Ireland showed signs of throwing away all that hard work in Scotland, we always had a belief that we would come back from a losing position and grind out the win.
In the other matches of the weekend, England reclaimed the Calcutta Cup from Scotland in a convincing 26-12 win at Twickenham while at the Flaminio, France’s 50-8 victory over Italy was comprehensive but fails to lift the pressure off their coach Marc Lievremont.
Looking back on the tournament as a whole, many issues cropped up that would please and alarm the Northern Hemisphere teams. The worrying sign of the Six Nations’ teams being incapable of counter attacking under the ELVs disrupted the flow as games of ping pong arose.
Teams appeared scared to counterattack at the risk of losing possession and with the British and Irish Lions Tour in South Africa coming up this summer, it would be difficult not to fear for the Lions’ fate against a South African side who have perhaps adapted better to the ELVs.
However, on a positive note it is great to see future talent coming through and cementing themselves in the side. Rob Kearney, Luke Fitzgerald and Stephen Ferris to name a few have joined the aging golden generation team and have given Ireland a youthful look. Then with the Six Nations’ Player of the Championship accolade up for grabs next week, you can hardly look past Brian O’Driscoll, a worthy captain of Ireland and a shoe-in for Lions duty this summer.
So it’s been a 61-year wait, yet it is finally over. Nothing should stop Ireland celebrating this momentous victory and let us hope that we are not left waiting another 61 years again.