When the Irish Six Nations campaign kicked off in Cardiff at the start of February, a nervous sense of excitement was in the air. After a promising November series, the Irish supporters had cause for optimism. A narrow loss against South Africa, was followed by two convincing wins over Fiji and Argentina. When the curtain came down on a relatively successful November series, all eyes became firmly fixated on the first week of February and the beginning of the 2013 Six Nations.
Following the success of the Irish provinces in the European cup, many fans began to wonder if the glory days of 2009 were on the horizon once more. The success-addicted rugby-junkies had gone cold-turkey over the last couple of years, and could feel their addiction nearing the surface once more. As Six Nations fever began to edge ever closer, thoughts of another Grand Slam began to spread throughout pubs in Ireland. The pandemic was back and the Heineken dealers in Dublin 4 were back on the take. One by one, the rugby-junkies emerged from their hideouts. Tossing hurleys and soccer balls to the ground, they were ready to go back on the ‘gear’, albeit this time it was of the Puma type.
Rugby-fever was as contagious as Italia ’90 and as promising as a young Katie Taylor. The people wanted a Six Nations to remember and sadly, that was what they got.
The game in Cardiff began in the best possible fashion, with new kid on the block Simon Zebo touching down for a memorable try. Scores from the boot of Jonathan Sexton and a Cian Healy try followed, giving Ireland a commanding 23-3 lead at half-time. Wales were shell-shocked, Ireland were in dreamland. On that first-half performance, Irish hopes of a Grand Slam did not seem so far-fetched. When Brian O’ Driscoll went over for another Irish try, the rugby junkies in the stands were visibly riding a thrill that had not been experienced for a long time. Ireland were back.
However, with all highs there must be a low, and down came Ireland. Wales began to batter the Irish line. It seemed that the Irish heads were already back in Dublin envisioning the visit of England. Wales scored three tries, but Ireland escaped with a win.The sound of the referee blowing the final whistle was as much a relief than a cause for celebration. An excellent first-half performance, somehow turned into a terrible second-half showing. None of that mattered to the junkies in the stands however, as they looked forward to getting their next hit in the form of England’s arrival to the Aviva.
Sadly, the lows of the second-half performance in Cardiff showed no signs of disappearing as a lacklustre Ireland fell short against the old enemy. 6-12 England read the scoreline, but in truth it was never in doubt. The Irish rugby junkies were feeling sick to their stomachs, reeling from a bad batch so cruelly delivered by the boot of Owen Farrell.
Alas, all was not lost and hopes turned towards a possible championship victory. It was nowhere near as satisfying as the feel of a Grand Slam, but good preparation for the chills and spills of cold turkey that awaited Irish rugby addicts in the troubling gap between the Six Nations and the Lions Tour.
Up next was a game in Murrayfield against a physical Scottish side. The build-up was dominated by the decision of Declan Kidney to nominate Ronan O’ Gara as the sacrificial lamb and feed him to the pack of snarling media wolves by bringing in Paddy Jackson. Kidney knew it was a big decision and seemingly shattering the confidence of a 128-cap veteran was the act of a man desperately clinging on to the edge of his IRFU career.
The decision backfired, as the lack of confidence in Paddy Jackson’s kicking led to missed opportunities and kicks to touch when a strike at the posts would have been the better option. Despite dominating Scotland with nearly 80% possession, Ireland somehow left Murrayfield on the wrong side of a crushing loss.
It is said that an addict is most dangerous when it is strung-out. As the effects of their stimulant wears off, addicts can transform into vicious people. This was evident in the aftermath of the Scotland loss, with calls for Declan Kidney’s head engulfing every media outlet. The Irish coach had been the provider of so many great hits for Irish rugby junkies in the past, but that was all forgotten. The dealer’s supply had run out, and with it so did people’s faith in his ability. Declan Kidney’s days are numbered and it looks like one or two new dealers are ready to set up in Lansdowne Road.
SPORT IS EVERYTHING. Richard Barrett.