The Ireland team’s pulsating 14-13 victory over England in Saturday’s Six Nations championship in Dublin was not pretty, but it set up the exciting possibility of the first Irish Grand Slam since 1948.
This, however, is not a certainty, and the Irish team still have to beat Scotland at Murrayfield, and Wales in Cardiff.
Rugby, of course, is not a matter of life or death, although it is important to supporters, and Saturday’s game was played with a thudding intensity. Sport is full of symbolism, as well as hope and |despair, and its importance transcends the technicalities of what takes place on the field.
The match against England had the usual historic overtones, which were even more apparent in the headquarters of the GAA in Croke Park. It seems likely that future encounters between these two teams will take place in a rebuilt Lansdowne Road stadium, so a 100 per cent record of victory against England at Croke Park is historic in itself.
There were all kinds of other dramas in Saturday’s game, when there was so much at stake for both sides. Irish supporters have become perhaps too accustomed to the massive contribution of Ronan |O’Gara on so many occasions, but at the weekend his nerves of steel in taking penalties seem to have deserted him.
The contribution of Brian O’Driscoll was one of the most accomplished of any Irish captain in living memory, and he demonstrated not only his outstanding courage but also the rare quality of leading by example. The English team, by contrast, showed typical ruggedness but destroyed themselves by their
lack of discipline. Rugby experts will continue to debate other aspects of this game, but for the wider public in Ireland, north and south, the current Grand Slam campaign provides a brighter talking point in an atmosphere of prevailing economic gloom.
An Irish rugby victory will not bring more jobs, or reduce the list of bankruptcies and factory closures, but it will help people to take their minds off the sombre news – even temporarily – and that |cannot be a bad thing.
Sporting successes, or failures, live on in the pub lic consciousness long after those teams or individuals directly involved in former glories have retired. A good example of this is the 1948 Grand Slam in which Dr Jack Kyle, that Ulster and Ireland sporting legend, played such an important part.
After Saturday’s game Dr Kyle joined the panel of rugby experts in the RTE commentary box, and he was welcomed by the others, quite rightly, as a hero. How wonderful it would be if the current Irish team could deliver a new Grand Slam for Jack Kyle, and the other veterans of that event, and in so doing lay a ghost of more than 60 years.
However, this is a time for realism as well as hope. The Irish captain showed a talent for philosophy, reminiscent of Eric Cantona, when he said last week: “Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit, while wisdom is knowing not to put it into a fruit salad.”
Ireland have the rugby know-how to win a Grand Slam, but whether they have the knowledge to apply that wisdom all the way, remains to be seen.