A former England rugby international, writing in one of the British broadsheets, suggested Ireland might miss the crumble and creak of the old Lansdowne Road as they tried to establish a winning pattern in their new home at the Aviva.
Why, when he was playing he loved the old place, and on his first visit – yes! — he and his team-mates hit the Guinness afterwards and isn’t that what the game’s about, etc, etc.
He didn’t quite come out and say ‘Dublin for the craic, what’ (why am I hiding this guy’s identity? It was Ben Kay) but once you got past your own hard-wired reaction, wherein an Irish person can detect one drop of English condescension in a thousand parts of normal water and bristles accordingly, you were left wondering. Did he have a point?
It’s not uncommon for teams to take a while to settle into a new environment, and they don’t get much shinier and newer than the Aviva, even if the glass wall behind one goal is a surprise if you haven’t been there before.
Ireland came out to a full-throated, fully seated welcome and the second-best firework display of the last week, if you discount the pyrotechnics heralding the fall of Mubarak.
There’s nothing like an early score to raise the temperature, even if Gordon D’Arcy’s final pass to Luke Fitzgerald was slightly forward, which ruled out the latter’s try. As it was, the inevitable was only delayed. Poitrenaud knocked on and McFadden touched down; then Traille butchered the restart.
Much as you’d like to think the French were unnerved, normal service resumed, with Morgan Parra punishing Ireland with his penalty kicks. As a result, there was a French anthem rolling around the stadium with admirable clarity on 30 minutes.
All week supporters have been exhorted to bring back the roar, but it turns out it was le roar they meant.
The French support made itself audible all through, and when Medard finished off a French attack, they were more than audible: they were loud.
The mood music tipped back towards the home side towards the end, particularly after O’Gara’s raking kick pinned the French back inside their 22 with quarter of an hour left.
As Ireland battered the French line the decibel level began to rise, though the final incision – O’Gara going right with the little grubber – induced a falsetto tone to the roar, as 20,000 voices screamed for an overlap to be used. It duly was.
As you probably know by now, the game didn’t end well for Ireland. The way it ended, slowly expiring like a punctured bike tire, didn’t help the general atmosphere at the finalwhistle.
When the teams filed off , though, the group in red, white and blue were bouncing with happiness in the stadium. Literally. Though they were back to their shrugging, phlegmatic selves when we threaded our way through the crowds on Lansdowne Road later in the evening.
Still, the visitors’ happiness at the final whistle was of a piece with most of the afternoon. The atmosphere – sorry, l’ambiance, to give it a more accurate term – was purely French in Dublin 4 yesterday.
They have previous in this regard, of course. Whether you want to discuss the Bastille a couple of centuries ago, or Croke Park four years ago, the French antipathy when it comes to fortresses is well established.
Yesterday wasn’t as gut-wrenching as Vincent Clerc’s late, late winner in Dublin 3, but it was still a sour ending to a new start.
The other side of reflecting on 2007, mind, is the memory of the England game in GAA headquarters, when the result, not to mention the atmosphere, was second to none. A repeat of that dose would banish the blues for all concerned.
Maybe that’s the wrong approach. Now that there’s a new stadium, it demands new memories, new moments. Those have to be earned, though, and it’s in moments like yesterday – the agony when a win seemed within grasp – that you make the down payment on enjoying the victory of the future. In that sense, maybe Ben Kay had a point about the old place’s power, but Lansdowne Road didn’t become an asset overnight; it gathered an aura in the slow winding of the decades. You can’t hurry tradition, and you shouldn’t try.
Another Englishman once said that a particular event in the World War II wasn’t the beginning of the end so much as the end of the beginning. That’s where we’ll file yesterday in the Aviva. Start looking ahead now and not behind.
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