First things first: Dublin is one of the best places on earth to spend a sporting weekend. As soon as you’re sitting in the taxi (“Now is it the match you’re here for, lads?”), the whole place seems geared to making the visitor feel at home, and as the Guinness flows and flows, anything seems possible. This weekend, that feeling of boundless cheerfulness was never far away for a visiting supporter, with even The Irish Times politely extolling the virtues of Lancaster’s humble warriors.
But the kind words and good vibrations conceal a dark reality: Dublin is the boneyard of so many English hopes and misplaced expectations. Sure, we may have bashed the Blacks and hammered the Scots, but the Irish, in Dublin? Come on, they’ve torn us apart at Lansdowne Road, Croke Park and The Aviva, the latter evisceration the most one-sided 24-8 score anyone present has ever seen. That’s why to this observer at least, the blarneyfied blandishments were taken with a generous pinch of salt and another giant swig of porter.
Oh, and after Saturday’s balmy sunshine (lovely day’s racing at Leopardstown, since you ask), Sunday’s drink despoiled eyelids were greeted with persistent, stair- rodding rain, not ‘a little softness’, no, an unremitting deluge that would last all of Sunday and is probably still pouring down now. The rain’s chill fingers seeped through tweed, through Barbour and into English hearts on the long walk through the dripping residential streets of D4 that afternoon, and the stadium looming like some kind of aquatic spaceship out of the cloud only served up a grim reminder of our last Six Nations experience there. Surely this weather would favour the home side, the locals around us already purring at how Sexton and Kearney would be ‘putting it up’, and down the throats of the English backs all afternoon. Cue hysterical groping for a soaplike ball and wave after wave of rampaging Irish attacks honed under the auspices of the Gaelic Athletic Association. So the mood of many Englishmen under the dripping canvas of a hundred Guinness tents that afternoon rather matched the climate.
Added to the weather-gods’ intervention was a mood of quiet confidence in the Irish camp. After all, they were fielding an unchanged side fresh from bearding the Grand Slam champions in their Cardiff den, in a performance distinguished by both sublime attacking flair and obdurate backs-to-the-wall defence. It was clear that this Dublin Sunday was going to be every bit as much of a test as the Blacks’ visit to Twickenham, and the fury would rage right from the start.
We need not have worried. From the kickoff, all fifteen Englishmen got stuck right in and seemed oblivious to the conditions. The go-forward was there, both in taking the ball in and in the tackle. This was in complete contrast to two seasons ago, when Ireland opened like champions and bossed the game throughout. As England established physical momentum, the outcome would surely be penalties, and the imperturbable Farrell punched two four irons over from by-no-means gimme territory in the first half hour. The home crowd were restive, their mood not helped by the sight of two of their talisman, Zebo and Sexton, limping off. But hang on, if anyone
in the world could guide the greasy pill in Ireland’s favour, wouldn’t it be ROG? A miss by Farrell on the stroke of half time caused flutters amongst the increasingly noisy English contingent: only one score in it, and the Green monster would assuredly unleash the fires of hell for the start of the second forty.
And they did, and although England seemed to have contained the blast, a rare slip-up at scrum time gave O’Gara an easy kick. Both sides tore into each other, momentum shifting this way and that, but always England seeming to have the edge. Then, calamity struck, as that lightening-rod for Jim Telfer’s ‘arrogant England’ party, James Haskell, found himself in yellow card choky. Finally, the Aviva was rocking, England a man down, ROG stroking over the pen, scores level and surely a home win beckoning. Shades of the All Black game in November, with two quick NZ tries putting the aforesaid ‘humble warriors’ to the sword. The response was less
electrifying, but perhaps even more significant, as short-handed England somehow turned the screw, re-establishing the relentless go-forward of the first half-hour and reaping the benefit in the form of two more impeccable Farrell penalties. The fire was drawn out of the Irish and, it seemed, the whole Dublin crowd: handshakes were proffered at the end, and no excuses offered, not even the timeless chestnut, ‘Bloody French referee’.
For those of us in the nosebleed sections of the Aviva, there was an added bonus. The English supporters had delivered a surprisingly resonant National Anthem at the start of proceedings, and as Farrell kicked his points, a few choruses of Swing Low were tried, which were aggressively suppressed by Irish jeers. But rather as Tchaikovsky’s Russian anthem drowns out the Marseillaise in the 1812 Overture, so were we English able to enjoy the cavernous concrete echo of the cacophonous stadium stairwells ringing out to our favourite spiritual song. Rarely has it sounded
so good, or celebrated a more satisfying victory, (and not at all in an arrogant way)!
What a weekend!
What did you make of England’s first win in Dublin in 10 years? Comments below…