By PJ Cunningham
Irish rugby does roller-coaster almost as second nature – the famine of 2019 has now turned into prospect of another feast as new head coach Andy Farrell has his team on the cusp of winning a mythical Triple Crown before the month of February is out, following the 24-14 win over Wales in Dublin on Saturday.
Joe Schmidt was the messiah in 2018 when he won the Grand Slam and beat New Zealand as part of an unbeaten year’s activity.
Last year, his fortune turned on its axis and he couldn’t get the team out of second gear – losing big time to Wales and England in the Six Nations and then the World Cup disaster where the All Blacks tore us asunder in Japan.
Former Ireland and Lions out half, Tony Ward, has made the point for years that Ireland is only ever one game away from a disaster or a recovery – and the latest win at the Aviva Stadium last Saturday proves the point.
When Farrell decided to tread softly by introducing a small number of new faces the critics felt that the famine was sure to go on for another season.
The Scotland match, where Johnny Sexton scored all 19 points, did little to turn them off course, but stopping Wales’ attempt for a nine game winning streak in the Six Nations and not allowing the current Grand Slam champions even the consolation of a point, has given fresh food for thought.
Tries from Jordan Larmour, Tadhg Furlong, Josh van der Flier and Andrew Conway brought an end to the Dragon’s Fire with a performance that while it wasn’t perfect, had much more passion and spirit than the previous week.
Ireland still need to hone their execution of pre-planned moves while their passing across the three-quarters is still laboured and predictable.
Certainly as Farrell emphasised later, such a performance won’t do in Twickenham on Saturday week, when his son Owen will be in the vanguard of trying to ensure his father doesn’t escape from the famed stadium with a Triple Crown to his name.
It is ironic that when the young lad was asked about the subject in Murrayfield following England’s 13-6 win over Scotland in the Calcutta Cup, he blanked the interviewer.
In other words, he was trying to stop the talk before it starts.
However over the coming days, Farrell versus Farrell will be the dominant topic in media both sides of the Irish Sea as the father, a former England rugby league and union player, plots the downfall of his native country.
Even harder for him will be coming up with a way to stop his son – despite the fact that both have been in England set-ups together until the 2015 World Cup.
The outcome is probably slightly in favour of the home side because hosts always have a huge advantage in Six Nations games.
However of late, both these teams have discovered the habit of winning in each other’s backyard – it would be nice if that trend was to go on for another year.
Dubs share spoils thanks to 10 minutes added time
There used to be a thing called ‘Fergie Time’ which Manchester United used to telling effect to win many matches long after the allotted time appeared to be up on most people’s watches.
On Saturday night, Monaghan manager, Seamus ‘Banty’ McAneaney bemoaned the fact that there was ‘Dessie Time’ as the new Dublin boss, Dessie Farrell, escaped with a draw thanks to a succession of late scores eight, nine and 10 minutes beyond the allotted 70.
Yes, it was the 80th minute when an unlikely source – corner back David Byrne slapped over the equaliser (1-15 apiece) to ensure the spoils were shared in this thrilling league game.
It was a point noted by Meath manager Andy McEntee on Sunday when he said that there seems to be one rule on time for the big teams, and one for the likes of Meath.
“Dublin got at least two minutes more than they should have while we didn’t get two seconds beyond the 70th minute today – and that after one of their men ‘played’ injured for 30 seconds late in the game.
Monaghan were crying for the final whistle and McEntee’s assessment was one I agreed with as you could ‘sense’ Down referee Ciaran Branagan was going to play on for that vital score.
Despite the generosity of the Mourne whistler, who certainly did his fellow Ulster county no favours on the night, particularly with the added time, you couldn’t but marvel at the Dubs resilience not to give up on what appeared to be a lost cause.