More dropped H's than Eastenders

 

IT WAS an exercise in showing Ireland's best face to the world. Indeed, Saturday's Peace International at Lansdowne Road had several of Ireland's best faces in the form of the Corrs, the unbelievably good looking Dudalk band who provided the match entertainment.

It was only when the rugby took over that matters took a slight downturn. Firstly, Lansdowne's public address system chose this, of all days, not to work. By the time the crowd was called on to observe a minute's silence before the game, the PA had been observing silence for several minutes, so we had to guess what was happening as a group of children of the troubles were presented along with injured stars Francois Pienaar, David Campese and Ben, Clarke.

Then there was the match. It did seem a little ironic that a team called the Barbarians were playing for peace. So, lest there be any doubt about the visitors' attitude, Ireland's 15 took it upon themselves to compensate, with an 80-minute performance of disciplined non-aggression that even Mahatma Gandhi would have admired.

After four Barbarian fries, the men in green burst belatedly into life at around the same time as the PA system, whose first offering of "one, two" was warmly applauded by the good-humoured crowd.

The impression of a harmless run-around was contradicted when first Halvey and later Hurley, Humphreys, Hogan and Henderson limped off the Irish team, which by the second half had more dropped H's than an episode of Eastenders.

Later on, when the United Nations' 15 developed a noticeably more charitable attitude, the crowd cheered the late Irish tries knowingly.

The event's main organisers, Hugo McNeill and Trevor Ringland, played on the most feared Irish rugby team of recent times but, their playing days over, they combined to produce another winner on Saturday.

A "dream team" of the world's best honoured their efforts, more than 30,000 people lent their voices, and the sun shone. The line about "Ireland standing tall" in the team song - played as both sides combined in a post-match lap of honour - had a special resonance.