Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

RBS 6 Nations: Ireland strong enough to win grand slam, insists Campbell

Up and running: Ireland have been putting in the hard yards ahead of today's big match at Twickenham
Up and running: Ireland have been putting in the hard yards ahead of today's big match at Twickenham

Irish rugby legend Ollie Campbell is hopeful that history could just be about to repeat itself as his country prepares to go into Test number 128 against England this afternoon at Twickenham (4pm).

The soon-to-be-60-year-old (March 5) Triple Crown and championship-winning outside-half, turned the clock back half a century and then drew a significant parallel.

"In 1962 – in what was Willie John McBride's debut –Ireland went to Twickenham and were hammered 16-0," he recalled.

"There were guys who played that day who never played for Ireland again.

"Two years later – 1964 – another Ulsterman, Mike Gibson, made his debut in a famous 18-5 Irish victory.

"So here we are, exactly 50 years later. Two years ago Ireland came to Twickenham and were annihilated. But hopefully we are about to see history repeat itself as we witness another famous Irish victory two years after being hammered by England."

Campbell is optimistic about today's outcome, albeit that he sees it as being a huge challenge in view of it being away from home and the importance of the result to both sides' hopes and aspirations.

"Ireland-England matches go back well over 100 years," he said.

"They're pretty big most seasons, but every so often you get a game that's just a little more special than usual and this is one of those.

"There's a lot at stake for both teams – a Triple Crown for Ireland if we win and then suddenly there's the possibility of the championship and even, dare I say it, an elusive Grand Slam which would be only the third in our history.

"On the other hand you've got England who have their own dreams as well – a possible championship and, of course, the possibility of them going on to win the Triple Crown if they beat us and then beat Wales at Twickenham in the next match.

"So this is a momentous occasion as it's nicely – so very, very nicely – primed the way the fixtures have fallen, particularly for us.

"The fact that this is Joe Schmidt's first away match makes it even more interesting. So far he's had the home comfort zone; Carton House and Lansdowne Road, which I still call it – I'm standing my ground on that one given that it is the oldest international rugby ground in the world as my dad always reminded me!

"This is a big challenge against a pretty impressive and potentially very good English team. But I think we have too much experience, so I am quietly confident. I believe that we have enough to win this match."

He is delighted that Irish rugby supporters have become excited this week about the prospect of winning the Triple Crown.

That is a prize particularly dear to him, for in 1982 he became a national hero after scoring all of his side's points in the 21-12 Dublin victory over Scotland which completed Ireland's first whitewash of the other home nations in 33 years.

"Ireland will not be thinking about winning championships or Grand Slams at this moment," he said. "Completely, utterly and totally their focus will be on nothing other than this game against England.

"Yes, they know the potential for a bigger prize. But the prize on offer now is the Triple Crown and I am so thrilled to hear people talking about the possibility of winning that and being excited at the prospect because that is what I grew up with.

"I think there was a period in the noughties when we were maybe taking them a little bit for granted and they didn't seem to have the value that they did before because they weren't leading us to championships or Grand Slams. It was 'only the Triple Crown' for a while, which was sad to see."

His confidence that Ireland will bag their first Crown since 2009 has been boosted by the fact that England have lost the cornerstone of their scrum.

"The really, really significant thing that has happened this week is that Dan Cole won't be playing," Campbell said.

"That's an enormous psychological down for them and up for us. I think that's huge, I really do."

So while conceding that "challenges for Ireland don't come much bigger than facing England at Twickenham with so much at stake", he added another positive.

"I think we will get parity up front and that is all-important. And if we do, then I think we will just have too much experience, too much of a cutting edge and too much talent in the back line not to win the match," he forecast.

"Again I would be quietly confident that Joe will come up with the master plan and that he has the players who are able to carry it out. I think we will win the match and, with that, our 11th Triple Crown.

"And hopefully that is only a parting stop on the way to bigger and greater things and maybe, maybe, maybe the biggest prize of all, another Grand Slam."

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