Irish smiles say it all


IRISH post match press conferences have, of late, been sombre affairs. Last Saturday the broad smile on Pat Whelan's face said it all. Exultation at victory and relief that Ireland had ended the losing spell, which, ironically extended back to the win over Wales in Dublin last season, were the keynotes of the occasion.

Significantly, Whelan immediately paid tribute to Ashton and his players. "I am absolutely delighted for Brian and for the players. They have put so much work and application into the preparation for this match said Whelan."

"Brian is only with us a few weeks, yet in that short time he has brought tremendous progress. I think it is quite evident that the tactical approach he has brought to the side is being carried out by the players. As yet it may not be carried through to perfection, but the progress is quite obvious."

And so it is.

A delighted Ireland captain, Jim Staples, said: "We have come back after a bad run. It is obviously a great psychological boost to us, but we will not get carried away. When Wales got that try in the first minute, I told the players now play as if the score is still nil nil. We needed to hit back very quickly, we needed to get our hands on the ball quickly and we did and then got the scores."

On the match against England, he said: "We will think about England next week, but winning out there will certainly help us. The Arms Park is a great place to play, a great atmosphere and the players responded to it. We had some anxiety just before the end when they scored that late try. It was important that we did not make a mistake after that."

Ashton, quiet and thoughtful, bore the countenance of a contented man. "It will be my team against England on Saturday week," he said. It is something that will not give England much comfort as they prepare for their visit to Dublin.

"I look forward to that match with quite a bit of confidence," he added. "The Welsh came at us in the second hall, but we had some outstanding defence and while they scored a couple of tries, we had sufficient points in hand. But it got quite tough towards the end. The confrontation between Maurice Field and Scott Gibbs was pretty explosive and Maurice came out of it better than quite well.

"Yes, we have progressed since the match against France, we went seven points down and immediately got back into the game. We scored three trees and we had worked on that during the week. This win will now give the players the confidence. We still need to extend the framework of our game and play it for 80 minutes but that win is a nice platform on which to work for the game against England."

The Welsh did not disguise that this loss was a setback. Their dreams of meeting England for the Triple Crown on 15th March is in tatters. Yet coach Kevin Bowring captain John Humphreys and Wales's most experienced player, Ieuan Evans, all conceded that "Ireland deserved to win."

Evans said: "We got a dream start but after that it was all Ireland in the first half. We got turned over too much and we made ground at times and then lost it immediately."

Humphreys said: "We began to play in the second half as we wanted but we left it too late. All credit to Ireland, they are a difficult side to beat and they deserved to win.

Bowring was not happy with referee Wayne Erickson's interpretations at rucks and mauls: "I could not understand some of his decisions and interpretations." He could have added that neither did the Ireland players on occasions.

"It is a setback but we must overcome it. We just did not get the set piece platform. We did better in the second hall, but did not retain possession. But Ireland did deserve to win."

The Ireland team to meet England at Lansdowne Road on Saturday week will be announced next Sunday morning.