Hook had patron saint on standby as Ireland stared into maw of monster

TV View: George Hook’s mea culpa was almost as extraordinary as victory on the pitch

Jonathan Sexton and Conor Murray tackle Jean de Villiers at the Aviva on Saturday. So formidable was the visitors’ reputation that it seemed beating them was even beyond St Jude. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

Jonathan Sexton and Conor Murray tackle Jean de Villiers at the Aviva on Saturday. So formidable was the visitors’ reputation that it seemed beating them was even beyond St Jude. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

 

We’ve probably all tried the prayer in our time, usually highly inappropriately, like when our sporting case was especially desperate and our sporting cause seemingly lost. Maybe as recently as that trip to Gelsenkirchen to play the world champions. And you know what happened then: O’Shea, O’Shea, O’Shea.

So, no offence at all to Johnny Sexton, who was more than decent on Saturday. But how he won the Man of the Match award over St Jude, we will never, ever know.

“Pray for me who am so miserable,” starts the plea, which might be why George Hook adopted it, his pre-match mood as sunny as an eclipse. Indeed, Hook even suspected Joe Schmidt had done a Brendan Rogers and picked a team designed to lose, but not in an entirely humiliating way, against the All-Springing Boks.

“You obviously don’t know Joe Schmidt,” Brent Pope advised him, but George was having none of it. There was divil a chance of Ireland beating South Africa.

Tom McGurk: “How will we win this game?” George: “I don’t think we can, so I don’t know how.” Tom: “How could we win it?” George: “I suppose St Jude.”

17 out

The other worry was the referee, Romain Poite. Tom is the biggest of fans. “I’ve never seen him play a game where he’s not risible – and he hasn’t a very nice relationship with Paul O’Connell,” he told us, so that didn’t augur well.

And then, when he handed over to the commentary box, Shane Horgan had to go and tell us that South Africa “just look like monsters”, as if we weren’t fretting enough. And by now you could only conclude that even this was beyond St Jude.

But holy smokes: half-time and Ireland led 6-3. George gave credit where he reckoned it was due. “Well, you asked me how Ireland could win – by having a crap referee.”

Unbowed, on we soldiered to the second half, fearing a Bok backlash of brutal proportions, but by the time Sexton put the Lost Cause XV 13-3 up, you had to salute the power of prayer.

But then Peter O’Mahony was flattened by his Munster buddy Conor Murray and you worried. Ryle Nugent did comfort us when he said of the warrior, “Well, if he didn’t have medical attention during a game you’d think there was something wrong with him.”

True, that. And up O’Mahony got, Lazarus, like.

Thereafter. Ah sure, a breeze. Ireland 29, South Africa limping home with just 15.

“I’ve got to say, George Hook, I’m glad that St Jude is an Irishman,” said Tom. Brent and Conor chuckled so hard they nigh on fell off their seats.

George took a deep breath. Then emoted. The ref? No!

“It is an extraordinary privilege to be on television and to be able to give your opinions about a game you love. It is also extraordinary when you get it so wrong . . . I absolutely totally have underestimated the extraordinary ability demonstrated by Joe Schmidt and the players under his control . . . I’m very happy to be wrong.” Extraordinary.

More extraordinary

“This victory is one of the most extraordinary victories in the history of Irish rugby because our performances up to this point have always been predicated by courage, character and commitment. This victory was fashioned on extraordinary coaching, unbelievable discipline and an incredible game plan.”

And then George forecast an extraordinary World Cup for Ireland, before warning the lads that “we’re looking too far ahead”.

Tom, though, doffed his cap to George for being so magnanimous. “Final thoughts George? The team that was sent out to lose didn’t do what it was told?” George: “If you want to troll, troll away.”

And then he was off to have a pint with St Jude. He owed him one. An extraordinary one too.

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