Kidney can take heart from Ireland’s defeat
The Barbarians may be famed for their throw-it-about approach to rugby football, but it was patched up Ireland who did most to give last night’s Thomond Park capacity crowd value for their money.
In the end they fell six points shy of parity, but the final half-hour of their performance raised spirits.
Declan Kidney now has a better idea of who can do what and several players put their hand up high, notably Andrew Trimble, John Muldoon and Sean Cronin. Nor will Niall Ronan, Dan Tuohy or Gavin Duffy have slipped down the order. And Paddy Wallace did a lot in his 40-minute shift.
It was billed as an ‘international friendly’ in which the result was deemed to be secondary to the performance.
If the first 34 minutes were error-strewn, the seven which followed saw three tries and finally, the promise of a spectacle.
Initially the Barbarians appeared to have dispensed with their proud tradition by kicking goals rather than running the ball and with the French referee repeatedly finding fault with the scrummage they had no shortage of frees and penalties.
A Brock James brace on 11 and 16 minutes opened up a 6-0 lead, which Ronan O’Gara promptly halved. James restored the six-point differential just before the half-hour at which stage many in the shirt-sleeved crowd began to wonder if it there was to be any running rugby at all.
Finally, there was.
Captain, Xavier Rush, was first to cross the line following a close-range feed and take with his scrum-half Pierre Mignoni.
Four minutes later Rush’s back row colleague, George Smith, applied the finish when the Barbarians pounced on another Irish handling error and broke from their own 22. Rob Kearney did superbly to get back to catch Casey Laulala, who really ought to have scored, but the reprieve was purely temporary. Smith grounded the ball and with James converting, from nowhere a 21-3 gap had opened up.
Ireland needed a response before half-time and they produced one that was stunning and Baba-esque. The highly impressive Trimble launched the move by cutting inside and showing great feet before straightening. Fellow-Ulsterman Chris Henry continued the surge before O’Gara released Munster flanker Niall Ronan for a great try under the posts with O’Gara’s conversion leaving it 21-11 at the break.
O’Gara resumed with an on-target 47th minute penalty, an effort five minutes earlier having gone wide off a post.
Then Muldoon launched a raid which Cronin continued before being hauled down metres short.
A third Babas’ try, that one from Toulouse wing Cedric Heymans, made it 26-13 and with Ireland getting better by the minute Jean-Baptiste Elissalde was happy to kick a 56th minute penalty which opened up a 16-point differential.
Ireland grew in stature, belief and conviction as they emptied their bench, with prop Tony Buckley scoring on the hour in the right corner off a quickly taken penalty and O’Gara converting brilliantly from touch to close to with nine points at 29-20.
There was still time and Ireland were in the ascendancy, but for all their effort and at times very good play, a 62nd minute O’Gara penalty was their only reward.
IRELAND: Rob Kearney (Leinster); Jonny Murphy (Munster), Gavin Duffy (Connacht), Fergus McFadden (Leinster), Andrew Trimble (Ulster); Ronan O'Gara (Munster, captain), Peter Stringer (Munster); Marcus Horan (Munster), Sean Cronin (Connacht), Tony Buckley (Munster); Ed O’Donoghue (Ulster), Dan Tuohy (Ulster); John Muldoon (Connacht), Niall Ronan (Munster), Chris Henry (Ulster). Replacements: Jerry Flannery (Munster), Tom Court (Ulster), Mick O’Driscoll (Munster), David Wallace (Munster), Tomas O'Leary (Munster), Jonathan Sexton (Leinster), Paddy Wallace (Ulster).
BARBARIANS: Paul Warwick (Munster); Cedric Heymans (Toulouse), Casey Laulala (Cardiff Blues), Seru Rabini (Leeds Carnegie), David Smith (Hurricanes); Brock James (Clermont Auvergne), Pierre Mignoni (Toulon); David Barnes (Bath), Schalk Brits (Saracens), Census Johnston (Toulouse); Jerome Thion (Biarritz), Malcolm O'Kelly (Leinster); Alan Quinlan (Munster), George Smith (Brumbies), Xavier Rush (Cardiff Blues, captain). Replacements: Benoit August (Biarritz), Julian White (Leicester Tigers), Rodney So'oialo (Hurricanes), Martyn Williams (Cardiff Blues), Byron Kelleher (Toulouse), Jean-Baptiste Elissalde (Toulouse), Paul Sackey (London Wasps)/Fabrice Estebanez (Brive).