Where do you start in trying to do justice to the quality of performance and euphoria of Ireland’s victory over England last Saturday?
What a great problem to have, but maybe it can be best summed up by the three words which were on everyone’s lips on Saturday night — ‘what a game!’
Given the expectation and media hype about a potential Grand Slam, maybe this quick story sums up the pleasure of victory.
Travelling on the first flight out of Dublin for Heathrow on Sunday morning, the air hostess over the intercom welcomed everyone on board and congratulated any England supporters on winning the Six Nations Championship.
She started to giggle and the smug grins of those Irish passengers returning to London suggested that they would go back to work with the greatest of bragging rights. Oh how we love to beat England.
My wife, who is English, asked me not to gloat too much. Impossible. This wasn’t a beating, this was a hiding, this was a demolition!
Over 80 minutes, even when one side is under sustained pressure, you expect them to have their own positive spell at some stage.
Steve Thompson’s intercept try was a mere blip, there was no hint of fightback as Ireland ruthlessly sustained the tempo of their attack and intensity of defence.
In fact, Thompson’s try flattered England as Ireland’s winning margin could and should have been greater — while the scoreboard did not fully reflect it, this was a 30 point game.
Martin Johnson loads his bench with experience on purpose, the plan being that his starting XV will be leading or thereabouts at the 60 minute mark. He sends on the cavalry sometime in the last quarter to close out the game.
These same players, including Jonny Wilkinson, were forced to enter the fray much earlier with a different agenda — a need to change and chase the game.
This was a role of the dice that Johnson had to make but it indicated the desperation of the situation. Every one of his players were below-par which neatly combined with every Irish player playing out of his skin.
Two early moments set the tone. Firstly, where did that first scrum come from? It rocked the English pack and sent an early message of defiance. This was followed up with a tap and go by Sexton which took play from 22 to 22 — another display of tempo and intent.
It is difficult to pick out players, as everyone made their own telling contribution. Sexton had a stormer, Wallace was wonderful, Trimble thumped everything, and Reddan ran the show.
And once again, I find myself marvelling at the intelligence, skill and largely unseen work that Rory Best gets through.
Whether taking the ball up, assisting with a cover tackle or providing a pivot to keep the ball alive and change the angle of attack, Best does not get the full credit that he deserves.
He should keep the red headguard on as it stands out more — his was an outstanding performance.
Ireland’s defence was intoxicating. By halting the quick ball upon which the English attack depends, Ireland gave those arch drifters, D’Arcy and BOD, every chance to snuff out attempts to break the line.
It was all too one-dimensional and telegraphed from England. There was no imagination in midfield with a pass to Matt Banahan the repeated option.
The giant Bath player ran with conviction but it was easy for the Irish centre partnership to shepherd him across the pitch. One made the tackle and the other dragged him into touch, BOD and D’Arcy combining in attitude and effectiveness.
Time after time we had examples of why Brian O’Driscoll is still the best drift defence player in the world.
Before the game I believed that the biggest test would be of England’s temperament. That composure crumbled under the self-imposed weight of expectation and the intensity that Ireland produced.
Motivation is a wonderful thing.
Ireland desperately needed to win in order to salvage something from this Six Nations. That and the incentive of an England side overconfident in their own ability led Declan Kidney’s men to an irresistible level of passion and technical excellence. It was fantastic to watch.