A stirring statement of peace and pace
THE "Peace International" between Ireland and the Barbarians at Lansdowne Road last Saturday was like no other representative match ever played at the famous old ground in over 120 years.
The Barbarians side, playing to a pattern utterly in keeping with their traditional approach, allied pace and perception to power as they scored 70 points - with Ireland's response being 38 points. Thirty eight points and still adrift at the finish by 32 - it was that kind of match.
The game produced 16 tries, and while the Barbarians could be said to have been a cosmopolitan assembly of talent from across the world, they produced an admirable level of teamwork and understanding that yielded 10 tries. Ireland's reply was six tries - and they had to work for them.
"It was a very special and emotional occasion and a very fast game and really more competitive than perhaps the score would suggest," said Dean Richards, who led the Barbarians after the team captain Philip De Glanville went off injured, as he spoke for the Barbarians' players after the match.
"It was a great day for rugby in every possible respect. That was an excellent Barbarians side, it would not be out of place as World XV," said Micky Steele-Bodger, the Barbarians' president.
It was indeed a very special occasion and in many respects a celebration of some of rugby's virtues, but Ireland did not have the resources to make it meaningful as a contest. The Barbarians had the physical strength, dexterity, the pace and the handling ability that Ireland could not match.
It showed up some things of which we were aware," said Ireland coach Murray Kidd. "They had much the greater level of pace and skill. We got sucked into their style right from the start and we could not match them in that kind of game. We needed to exercise more control."
The Irish spirit was never less than willing, but Ireland made errors - forced and unforced - in their anxiety to try and match the opposition.
Ireland manager Pat Whelan was far from despondent. "It was a useful exercise for us. We had several new players in the side and they did quite well. You must put a match like that into its' proper context. It was not a pressure situation. We have a fitness programme laid out. We know we, cannot match some of the sides and for upper body strength, and we will work on that. We have some way to go before we can compete in that area.
"It was an incredibly fast game," said Ireland captain Niall Hogan. So it was, and that suited the Barbarians. "There were very few scrums and line outs, but I felt we competed and played some very good rugby. I suppose you could say it was a game without caution."
The game produced some superb running and the Barbarians had - in half backs Johan Roux and outside half Stephen Bachop - the ideal men to give those outside the freedom to exercise their talents.
Wings Eric Rush and Rory Underwood got plenty of opportunity to show their pace and De Glanville, his replacement Greenwood and Phillipe Sella at times punched holes in the Irish defence. Underwood, Nigel Redman, Roux and De Glanville all scored tries within 18 minutes and Jonathan Callard converted all four. Indeed he gave an immaculate display of place kicking - 10 conversions, 10 on target. It was that kind of day.
Ireland hit back with tries by Robert Henderson and Victor Costello, who had a good first half, but the best Ireland forward was Paddy Johns, who came on after just three minutes for Eddie Halvey. Outside half David Humphreys also played well before he retired early in the second half, as did his replacement Paul Burke who scored a try.
Ireland did well in the line out and created some fine attacking positions, but they did not always capitalise on them and indeed, 50 of the Barbarians' scores came from their ability to counter attack from deep inside their own half.
But not all the spectacular tries came from the Barbarians. Richard Wallace, who played very well in attack and made some fine runs, scored a little gem and Topping also got one, the last try of the match. A tribute to his dedication of purpose. Costello who had scored Ireland's first try also got the first of Ireland's four second-half tries and there was more than a spark of creativity in their execution.
Altogether a memorable and enjoyable occasion.