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New start for Ireland, but at times Six Nations clash was like taking step back


Touching down: Johnny Sexton scores the only try of the game in Ireland’s victory over Scotland

Touching down: Johnny Sexton scores the only try of the game in Ireland’s victory over Scotland

Getty Images

Andy Farrell

Andy Farrell

Getty Images

Touching down: Johnny Sexton scores the only try of the game in Ireland’s victory over Scotland

Springtime all along the Dodder and a breezy, bright day summons the great expectations of growth and renewal.

From springer salmon a-leaping to grey wagtails a-cheeping, the day seems like much the same as the day before but there is change all around if only one cares to look for it. Or, patiently, wait.

Too many, of course, are in desper­ate need of instant gratification, the scourge of the needy now generation.

And so the recent history of the Irish international team seems to weigh so heavily on the future prospects that lie in wait.

From the initially extraordinary achievements of Joe Schmidt's side into that late period winter of shiv­ering discontent, such a bittersweet blend served to create a suffocating memory that demands immediate recompense.

They are celebrating St Brigid at Imbolc in Kildare; she could turn water into beer and in the 'bolg' of the stadium, two taps of the sponsors' product make their intoxicating debut; as an exercise in PR the bar has been raised but few approach it.

They forget that a drink is more required after a game - and particu­larly after this wretched affair - but by then the taps have been perempto­rily dismantled en route to gratifying needs urgently requested elsewhere.

The vast emporiums of drink and food remind one that these events are more of a social gathering than a sporting occasion; the action on the field is merely a support player to the incessant requirement to guzzle impa­tiently poured stout and expensive - but impressively fast - food.

And yet everybody housed within is an expert on the oval ball game, even though if you asked many of them what the All-Ireland League was, they would probably suggest it were a polit­ical vehicle for national unity.

But query Monsieur Reynal's pen­chant for allowing deviants to squirm through the middle of Ireland's lum­bering, plodding maul and their eyes light up at the prospect of inflicting incessant boredom upon another inno­cent victim.

In all sports, in fairness, mentioning the performance of a referee is not only a definite way to start a conversa­tion but in many cases a sure-fire way of ending it, too. Some things remain constant.

A significant change sees Andy Farrell assuming the reins for the first time; eschewing his predecessor's predilection for taking an energetic part of the warm-up, he stands aloof, substituting Schmidt's track suit for one befitting sober business.

His mandate when appointed well before time was to maintain the con­tinuity of the most successful era this island's rugby side has ever known; when he finally did take over, suddenly his responsibilities seemed a tad more onerous.

Not only must he lift a side from the sporting depression of a precipitous 2019, but do so by eliminating almost every vestige of a regime that, we were all led to believe, had become a monot­onous metronome.

While the punters were expectant, so too presumably were the players whose careers are shortening by the day; the brutality of a match which strikes down almost a third of the Irish team with injury a stark reminder of the punishing sacrifices required to quench public thirst between drinks.

Apparently, bean bags have been installed in HQ so the camp is a much happier one than the seemingly Spar­tan cruelty of the Schmidt era.

Many within have sought since Schmidt's leave-taking to express their misgivings at how the greatest Irish winning machine spluttered to a halt; curiously, none felt so bold to speak up at the time.

On this sainted day, when many natives glorify the birch for it is the first tree to grow back after a forest fire, we wonder could Jonathan Sex­ton's men rise so swiftly from the ashes of their World Cup failure?

It was difficult to see the join. Rather than a glimpse of the future, at times it was like stepping back into the past.

Some of the fare was so comically slapdash, it seemed as if one had acci­dentally stepped into a re-run of 'Reel­ing in the Years'; suddenly it is 1987 all over again with wild kicks and lawless rucks and the nagging temptation to fish in coat pockets for a can of Holsten and 10 Major.

Like a sleepy riser who tries to open the curtains but instead ends up pull­ing the rail down upon their heads as their pyjamas slip slowly to the floor, the attempt to witness the bright new day presents a series of challenges.

True, there are snatches; Ireland cre­ate space out the back in the opening quarter but as our wise guests of Joe Leddin in the Lansdowne clubhouse remind us, that is the easy bit. Finding space on the edge is key.

Ireland unlock it, once, with the game's solitary try but elsewhere the game presents a litany of personal and collective flaws.

Then again, though spring sprung for some on Saturday, others insist it does not arrive until March.

Irish rug­by's transition may be delayed, too.

Belfast Telegraph