What's rare is still wonderful
Rugby Focus on the Triple Crown: Anyone doubting the worth of the Triple Crown need only think for a moment about the names of Ollie Campbell and Paul Dean.
The two outhalves are synonymous with success, in large part because they were the pivotal playmakers in the Triple Crown and Championship campaigns of 1982 and 1985, which, lest we forget, were Ireland's only Crowns in the second half of the 20th century.
Each was restored to the number 10 jersey after whitewashes the preceding season; each was picked for the opening games ahead of Tony Ward and hence amid debate - in Dean's case particularly so.
Campbell, possibly the most complete Irish outhalf since Jackie Kyle, could have played to any style, though under the astute coaching of Tom Kiernan the slightly simplistic recollection is of him playing to a pack of gnarled and grizzled veterans, aka Dad's Army.
Campbell points out, not unreasonably, that Ireland scored five tries in the 1982 Crown campaign, the same as in 1985, but the coach was, to his mind, the unsung hero.
"He was an absolute rock. People forget that going into the Welsh game we had lost seven and drawn one of our previous eight games. We had been whitewashed the previous season but as Moss Keane said, it had been Ireland's best ever whitewash."
Campbell had taken the unusual decision to sit out almost the first four months of that season, thereby missing the autumnal 16-12 defeat to Australia. "The first match I played was the Whelan Trophy, between Old Belvedere and Bective, on St Stephen's Day or the day after," he recalls, and it was clearly one of the best decisions he had ever made. "I'd had an awful lot of rugby and I just needed a break. And talk about being fresh and eager and hungry."
In the 20-12 win over Wales, Campbell played a major hand in the three tries, two of which were scored by the concussed Moss Finn.
"We were just glad he touched them down rather than running up into the terraces. Watching it from St Vincent's Hospital on Rugby Special at five the next day, Moss said it was a weird and bewildering experience seeing himself score two tries for Ireland and having no recollection of them."
The 16-15 win in Twickenham will forever be remembered for Ginger McLoughlin's try. The key to what Campbell calls "a well rehearsed move" was the charge-down of his attempted kick before Ireland reclaimed the ball, whereupon Robbie McGrath and Campbell linked with Willie Duggan and Fergus Slattery for McLoughlin to, as he puts it himself, steamroller the English pack over the line and drag the Irish pack with him.
In any event, suddenly and unexpectedly, Ireland had a crack at their first Triple Crown, against Scotland, in 33 years, and first at Lansdowne Road. "From a personal point of view, I had been weaned on the Grand Slam and Triple Crown teams of 1948 and 1949. My dad was at all those games and I grew up hearing about them," says Campbell.
Strangely, as he puts it himself, Campbell was never so relaxed for a big game, which he attributes largely to Kiernan having what was then almost unheard of, a closed session when the squad assembled on the Thursday before the game.
A capricious wind and intermittent rain ruined the match as a spectacle, but Ireland, after an early scare, eased into a 15-6 lead by the break with the wind and ran out 21-12 winners, Campbell kicking six penalties and a drop goal.
"It was probably that pack's greatest moment playing into the wind in the second half, and Scotland didn't get a look in," says Campbell, who recalls unrelenting renditions of Molly Malone and then taking half an hour to get off the pitch.
"I would say that February 20th, 1982, was the single most fulfilling experience for that team, if not necessarily for the quality then for the sheer sense of achievement," he says.
"To score six penalties and a drop goal in a Triple Crown decider at Lansdowne Road made sense of all the endless hours of practice over the previous decade."
Now the agent for Pierre Cardin clothing in Ireland, Campbell is not as involved in the game as he'd like, though he never misses a home international. He scoffs at the Triple Crown's reduced lustre, pointing to the scarcely remembered and failed crack at the Grand Slam in France a month later, and how Ireland's share of the championship in 1983 is largely forgotten. "In my opinion, winning it in 2004 is every bit as important or valuable as any Triple Crown we've won in the past."
Dean played outside Campbell in 1982, and his selection at outhalf three seasons later by the newly-installed coach, Mick Doyle, ousting Willie John McBride after a very Irish coup amongst the Big Five (the vote was 3-2), was indicative of a sea change in approach. There had been five debutants in a creditable 16-9 defeat to Mark Ella's Grand Slam Wallabies, including Michael Bradley and Brendan Mullin in a talented back division, as well as another two in the opening game against Scotland - Brian Spillane and Nigel Carr joining Philip Matthews in a mobile back row.
Dean was aware of the furore his selection provoked, "but I was kind of young and foolish then, and I thought I could do anything. In fairness to Doyler, he gave me a chance and encouraged us to have a go. I was not going to play in a traditional, conservative way like Ollie Campbell or Tony Ward, because I couldn't. It was the way I wanted to play and the way I could play."
This side was an irreverent breath of fresh air, in which "everybody was on the same wavelength".
The opener at Murrayfield against Scotland, the reigning Grand Slam champions, still stands out for Dean, when Ireland made a daring statement of intent from the off by swinging the ball wide. "Hugo MacNeill knocked on over the line in a tackle after forgetting to transfer the ball. Do you think we've ever let him forget it?"
Ireland trailed 15-12 entering virtually the last play, Dean looped around Kiernan and skip-passed to MacNeill and he gave the try-scoring pass to Trevor Ringland.
"It was a completely planned move off second or third phase. Brian Spillane had taken scrum ball up the blindside. We knew exactly what we were doing," says Dean, almost matter-of-factly.
The niggly, bad-tempered 15-15 draw with France? "Moving on . . ."
Next up Wales in Cardiff, where Ireland hadn't won since 1967. "The way we saw it, what was done before was done by the elder fellas. We were a new team, we had a brand new style of play, we knew how to execute it, and we were going there to win."
Tries by Ringland, from Bradley's blindside chip, and Keith Crossan - perhaps the best move of the campaign - earned an opportunist 21-9 win and a less fluid, nerve-wracking finale at home to England.
Drawing 10-10 near the end, they held their nerve once more, Donal Lenihan rumbling off the tail of the lineout for Kiernan to land the winning drop goal.
"It wasn't a planned move as such. It was just the way the team was co-ordinated. I got out of the way by moving to the blindside because Kiernan is a better kicker than me - I hate to say it, in fact it kills me to say it - and he knocked it over."
Nowadays Dean is managing director of Umbro in Ireland and still goes to all the games with the class of '85. "Even though we only meet up a couple of times a year, I made some great friendships from that team. We haven't changed that much, except Mick Kiernan, who has got a lot, eh, stronger looking."
The thought of them being eclipsed today is "fabulous" says Dean, adding: "They're going to take the mantle off us and we'll be consigned to history, which is progress. This team is special. Malcolm O'Kelly really excites me, he's getting his game right back together, and Gordon D'Arcy is my man for the future. It's taken a while but he's now ready; he's one of the strongest players I've ever seen."
Dean hugely admires Eddie O'Sullivan and the coaching staff and doesn't expect any banana skins. "They're strong enough to win. This is a professional era, and I'd love to have trained twice a day, to see how good and how strong I could have become. I was only 12 stone when I played, and Terry Kennedy was only 10 stone. How was that possible?"