Preview – Ireland v England

The Irish have bad memories, ones they don’t forget. Should their memories falter at all, there is Croke Park to remind them.


For the Irish all the past happened just yesterday. It’s all rolled into one – Boyne, Cromwell, Black & Tan, 1916, Bloody Sunday… it’s all there, and Croke Park has been a part of the struggle against that oppression.

That is one part of history that may make matters unpleasant for the English visitors at Croker where the manners, so it seemed from the French match, are not as courteous and welcoming as they were, uniquely, at Lansdowne Road.

There is another part of history – the rugby part. The game came to Ireland from England – Ah, foreign game the GAA say. The first Test Ireland ever played was against England.

But there was that visit within living memory when England ran out onto at Lansdowne Road in Dublin to the longest applause, probably, any international team has ever received and that in an away match. England, you see, had honoured their fixture after Scotland and Wales had stayed away the previous year because of the Troubles. Now that was a day to remember – a generous day.

On that memorable day England repaid the warmth of the welcome by graciously losing to Ireland. Will that happen again on the last Saturday in February, a day of miserable weather if we believe the forecast?

But imagine the victory it would be to beat England at Croke Park. Just playing rugby there is a victory in itself, but to play rugby there and beat England there would be the stuff of memories stretching to the crack of doom.

Ireland have to pick themselves up. After all France came to Croke Park and shattered the Irish dreams of a first Grand Slam for 60 years. But if they cannot pick themselves up against England at Croke Park, then they are as flat as Shrove Tuesday pancake. And there is the chance to keep the Triple Crown won last year and with it a brand new trophy.

England, too, have to pick themselves up. There was a sudden burst of euphoria in the big Calcutta Cup victory but then the balloon fizzled itself flat against Italy – victory it is true but flat beer rather than champagne. But then Italy may just be better than people thought.

The Italian pack did really well against England at Twickenham, which suggests that the Irish pack will not be shoved around. The Irish will do at least as well as England in the line-outs though the Irish battled a bit in the scrums against France and that is an area where England could well get an upper hand. That is not as important as it was for many decades in rugby but still an important one, especially if it carries iover to the tight loose.

When it comes to scrapping for the tackle ball the Irish loose forwards look better capable of winning it as they have three players who can fetch with courage. But then they need tight forwards who will give them a fair chance. One thing is certain Paul O’Connell and Donncha O’Callaghan will scrap for all they are worth.

Ireland would prefer competitive Peter Stringer to play but even with him England seem to shade the Irish at halfback but that is where England’s superiority may well end. After all Brian O’Driscoll is back in town.

Not only is BOD the most threatening centre in the world but with him in the centre and English eyes upon him Gordon D’Arcy, who has been brilliant this season, may just have a field day, enjoying the opportunities less attention will give him.

The Irish centres surely will have greater skill and awareness than the two big men plonked in the England middle. The Irish wings may well get more opportunities and both wings are men who can run – Shane Horgan with power, Denis Hickie with a swerve and a dance. At the back, Girvan Dempsey had one of his best games against France while England have rookie Olly Morgan behind them.

Both sides have exc

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