Twickenham provides opportunity to repeat 2004 watershed Triple Crown
A crushing defeat at Twickenham in 2012 marked the start of a new era for Irish rugby
In 2004 Ireland won a Triple Crown that ignited an unrivalled period of success. It was the transfer of Munster’s winning mentality and Leinster’s unreal talent onto the international stage.
Winning at Twickenham became the expected.
Now, 10 years later, a new Irish team can write a new post- Grand Slam chapter by regaining the initiative at the old stadium. People can dismiss the Triple Crown but it would mean Joe Schmidt’s squad have something not held by an Ireland team since 2009. Silverware.
There’s no harder place to go and do this.
I can’t say I played England at Twickenham but I do know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a terrible thumping from them. What made 2003 even worse was they won the Grand Slam at our expense in Dublin.
The last great English side went down to New Zealand and won that summer before capturing the world cup in Australia but their 42-6 victory can also been seen as a watershed moment for Irish rugby.
I was on the bench. Got a run near the bitter end. We made impressive inroads early on, attacking them out wide but we were slamming into men with the deepest well of belief.
We weren’t quite there yet. I remember being in awe of Martin Johnson, Jason Leonard, Lawrence Dallaglio, Richard Hill and Neil Back.
I know that’s a bad attitude but they really were larger than life figures in the game. An intimidating and different breed when they pulled on the England jersey. Their ferocity and physicality, up close and personal, was a sight to behold.
Much like Paul O’Connell might be viewed by the current English players. There is an element of fear that needs controlling when a younger man is facing Paul. But you get stuck in and suddenly believe you have a chance.
Then he comes back at you and his team-mates are visibly inspired – best example being Peter O’Mahony’s turnover after he smashed Dan Lydiate two weeks ago.
Any great leader, be it Johnson or O’Connell, turns the sum of a team’s parts into one unrelenting force. You can see the crippling doubt in your opponent’s eyes. That’s the best feeling you can get on a rugby pitch.
It’s like what I said last week about the surge of adrenaline that comes before an effective five-metre lineout maul. The defending lineout know what’s coming but there’s nothing they can do about it.
Aura of invincibility
Anyway, within a year of England thrashing us at Lansdowne Road, their aura of invincibility had disappeared.