Real danger of an outbreak of positivity

It’s all Joe Schmidt’s fault: beat RoboLancaster’s England and there’ll be no stopping us

Thu, Feb 20, 2014, 07:00

Expectations change so rapidly in sport, it’s hard to keep the head from getting dizzy. A couple of weeks ago Wales were the defining challenge of the season. If we lost that, we lost everything, a bad start for Joe Schmidt and a terrible end for our prized number 13.

The build up had the lot, begrudgery, hostility, revenge, not to mention the mainly British media-fuelled dose of Irish persecution, as we apparently projected all our life’s frustrations onto Brian O’Driscoll’s “public humiliation” (Sky Sports News) at the hands of that nasty Warren Gatland. Let’s set the record straight, we’ve got more going on in our lives to be bothered by that traitorous sour-pussed Welsh Kiwi.

Apart from Ireland clinically tearing Wales apart a few other things happened. Scott Williams when trying to poleaxe our infallible one, managed to poleaxe himself instead. Not one for the grandchildren that.

A little bit naughty’
And may I ask why in hell was Liam Williams not cited for nearly taking Paddy Jackson’s head off with his elbow? BBC’S Jonathan Davies thought it was worth a chuckle, describing it as “a little bit naughty”. Had Jackson rolled around like Luis Suarez, Williams would have rightly missed the rest of the tournament.

Wales did get some revenge s in the unlikely form of referee Nigel Owens, who knocked several shades of yellow out of Neil Francis for the latter’s comments about homosexuals and sport. My favourite Francis quote was, “I mean, If you’ve ever sat down with, you know, homosexual people, and asked them what their interests are, very often they have no interest in any kind of sport. That’s my experience from sitting down with them; I’ve done it on a regular basis.”

One assumes the “it” he refers to is sitting down with homosexuals, on “a regular basis”. Was he conducting a survey? Maybe in a bar? “Eh excuse me I was wondering are you gay by any chance? Just let me get my clip board here. Now, what are your main interests?”

The subsequent apology, presumably for the faulty wiring between brain and cake-hole, was welcomed by Owens at least.

There’s no truth in the rumour that as part of the apology Francis offered to take Nigel to the opening of the radical new production of Swan Lake when it opens in Dublin next week. Nigel has no interest in any kind of ballet. I’ve sat down and asked him on a regular basis.

As the sporty, or perhaps non-sporty, will attest to, the attention has firmly switched to Twickenham this week and nothing quite stirs the loins like this fixture. Little old Ireland taking on the might of big, fat England in their own back yard.

This time there’s even more at stake for Ireland, the Triple Crown, the Grand Slam, the knowledge that the last decade should have yielded more silverware, the new European Cup has been orchestrated by English bullies, 800 years of . . . where was I . . . oh and last but not least, it’s O’Driscoll’s last hurrah. We just can’t lose this one, we have better players and a better coach. Ask yourself how many England players would make the Ireland team? There you are!

Stuart Lancaster is a no-nonsense Yorkshireman, hard to dislike even if he does show striking similarities to a robot. Full of facts and emotionless summaries, I’m not sure I’ve seen him blink yet. While Lawrence Dallaglio suggested England should “target” Johnny Sexton, (hardly a stroke of analytical genius there), they wouldn’t be England if there weren’t testy characters like Mike Brown, Dylan Hartley and Owen Farrell to rattle. And as Ireland proved with Mike Phillips they’re well able to do a bit of targeting themselves.

The withdrawal of tighthead Dan Cole is also a timely boost. In a vital position where England would have hoped to have an edge, parity in the scrum will surely now be a bonus. Over to you, Mr Joubert.

It has all the hallmarks of a humdinger; both teams desperate to win for different reasons, with the hosts under severe pressure to deliver. Former players are wading in, with Jonny Wilkinson remarking if England don’t win they can “say goodbye to the Six Nations and the World Cup”. Steady on old boy that’s a bit drastic. He’s watching too many French movies I think.

So few quibbles
In Ireland we’re so used to giving out about everything, it feels strange to have so few quibbles with Schmidt. Save for the odd selection here and there, there’s nothing much for the pub expert with which to vent his spleen.

You could even argue Schmidt is actually ruining our national pastime. Negativity. Taking lumps out of each other with sweeping generalisations and narky contrariness appears to be coming to an end under the coach.

What are we going to do? What with spring in the air and three Irish teams in Heineken Cup quarter-finals, I warn you now if Ireland win on Saturday there is the distinct danger of an outbreak of positivity. It would take a Kiwi wouldn’t it?

Ireland to win, assuming O’Driscoll starts.

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