Dual blogged on Irish News Review
There is no sweeter victory for an Irish rugby team than one sealed over England; 800 years and all that. Geoghaegan, Horgan, Gaillimh, McLaughlin – through the years this fixture has had a tendency to turn players into legends of the game. It barely needs to be discussed but a litany of (sporting) history explains why.
Above all else in the modern era England are the only Northern Hemisphere team to have won the World Cup. They’re a carrot for any team to chase for that accolade alone. Ireland have always had further ammunition of course with national history stoking a fire that roars enough on its own. There’s been some dark days against The Auld Enemy of course, even as recently as 2012 when Ireland were well and truly embarrassed in Twickenham, but through the years Ireland have nearly always managed to pull a massive performance out of the bag against them when it is needed most.
Think back to 1993 when Ireland dished out a first loss at home since 1988 for the Rose. Or 1994 when Simon Geoghaegan scored that try and etched himself into the folklore. 04 of course saw Ireland the first team to beat them post-World Cup 2003. And then along came Shaggy. To most 20/30 something rugby fans today, the long outstretched arm of Shane Horgan would be one of the earliest memories of Ireland’s ability to derail the chariot when called upon to do so. 3 points down with as many minutes to go, a trademark O’Driscoll break supported by Ronan O’Gara puts Horgan in the corner, a yard short of the line. Two recycles later and he knocks a second time, needing the intervention of a young Nigel Owens on the sideline and the TMO to confirm the dream; that Ireland had their try and subsequently a second Triple Crown in two years at a time when winning it meant a whole lot to the nation.
Horgan wasn’t satisfied with that alone of course, coming back the following year to score the third of Ireland’s four tries in a Croke Park thumping. The eponymous Rule 42 vote allowed rugby to be played in the stadium for the first time in 2007 and after a heartbreaking last gasp loss to France you just somehow knew Ireland could never lose this match. England did put in some scores and come the final weekend they proved decisive in Ireland missing out on the title but the image of Shaggy reaching to the sky to claim O’Gara’s pinpoint chip is not likely to leave the memory anytime soon. Of course as has been noted several times since then, it was only fitting that Ireland throw in some GAA moves given the occasion.
2008 was a drab affair and Eddie O’Sullivan’s last in charge. Ireland had limped past Italy and comfortably beaten a miserable Scotland but England were hurting. They had surrendered twenty years unbeaten to Wales at home and the Croke Park drubbing was still raw. A lackluster Ireland fell flat and a regimental Danny Cipriani gave a masterclass at 10. 2009, well we all know how that went. England nearly nabbed it at the death with a Delon Armitage try but the absolutely Herculean and arguably insane efforts of Brian O’Driscoll ensured that Ireland would march on victorious and inevitably take the Slam. 10 brought another victory for green and Tommy Bowe joined that hall of legends, running in two tries including the winner from a brilliant set piece move. Ireland failed to do much else that year but the old enemy were kept at bay once more.
2011 brought about one of the best Irish performances against the Rose in recent memory. England were unbeaten and coming to Dublin for the Slam. Ireland had lost to Wales for the first time in years and France had once again proved far too much. With the World Cup on the horizon there were points to be proven. Queue a Jonathan Sexton spectacular and O’Driscoll clinching the Six Nations try scoring record as Ireland beat England by a record margin. It also denied England the Slam of course which only sweetened the deal.
And after that? Four games in a row Ireland have fallen to the old enemy. 2012 was disastrous, England annihilating Ireland in Twickenham and a day most notable, aside from being St. Patrick’s Day, for being the moment when the IRFU truly realised how screwed Ireland were in the front row. Mike Ross and Tom Court departing the pitch injured meant uncontested scrums by the end of it, a dark day indeed. A penalty try and a pathetically soft Ben Youngs quick tap were part of the damage inflicted on Ireland that day and though the results are yet to get an upward swing, days like this will never happen again. 2013 and 2014 have both been close-knit affairs, the departure of Jonathan Sexton to a pulled hamstring in 2013 not helping Ireland in any way and in 2014 the only fair result really would have been a draw; such was the lack of a gap between the sides. Here and now in 2015 both sides are heading in against each other under similar circumstances. Both unbeaten and both showing the most talent thus far – they can’t be separated. For every Vunipola England can throw at Ireland, there’s home advantage to throw right back. For every Jonathan Joseph there’s a Jonathan Sexton. There is nothing left to do but sit back and enjoy. And as a wise man once said, don’t forget to breathe. Let us see if some more legends can be created this afternoon.
Image courtesy of rugbyworld.com