Donal Lenihan.


Weather gods may be looking kindly on Ireland's quest for glory

I couldn’t help but think how, with the vast majority of the country covered in a thick blanket of snow over the entire weekend, that perhaps Ireland’s Six Nations title aspirations are written in the stars, writes Donal Lenihan.

Weather gods may be looking kindly on Ireland's quest for glory

National television and radio referenced the fact that the last time the country was forced to close down to the extent witnessed last Thursday and Friday was in January 1982.

Back then the impact of a countrywide blizzard that, by all accounts was the worst since 1963, had personal ramifications for me and fellow Cork man Moss Finn.

Having played senior international rugby for the first time just two months previously against Australia, I stood on the verge of making my Five Nations debut in the opening match of the campaign against Wales.

Much to my horror, the adverse conditions across the country, coupled with the hazardous state of the terraces at Lansdowne Road, forced the cancellation of the game.

I was raging.

Moss was in a slightly different position. He had won his first cap three years earlier but injury had prevented him adding to that figure. The one cap wonder slag was wearing a bit thin with him.

It turned out that the Welsh postponement came as a huge relief to him given he was nursing a dodgy hamstring at the time.

Unlike today when prop forwards and second rows like Tadhg Furlong and Iain Henderson were forced out of the game against Wales ten days ago, only wingers, pacy midfield backs and English soccer players were afflicted with hamstring injuries back then.

Had that game gone ahead as scheduled, it is most unlikely Moss would have been passed fit to start.

With an extra week’s treatment however he was ready to go. Ireland beat Wales 20-12 with Moss contributing two tries off the left wing, neither of which he had any recollection due to concussion!

Suffice to say we didn’t quite know the potential impact of that either at the time.

When Moss said he couldn’t remember scoring his tries after the game, we told him it wasn’t a problem as Starry Crowley had taped the match on one of those fancy new video machines and he could watch it over and over again in Cork’s most famous sporting watering hole — The Western Star. That win set Ireland on the way to a first Triple Crown in 33 years coupled with the Five Nations championship.

Three years later, another untimely snowstorm forced the cancellation of Ireland’s opening Five Nations game against England the day before the match. For debutant back row forwards Brian Spillane and Nigel Carr, who had been engaged in a fascinating battle over the previous three seasons with the great Fergus Slattery for the coveted No 7 jersey, that postponement was hard to take.

At least I had been capped before the Welsh game was called off three years earlier. On the brink of making your international debut, all you want to do is get out on the field. I felt for the two lads.

When that England game was officially postponed on Friday lunchtime our coach Mick Doyle, sensing the massive deflation within the squad, marched us out the foyer of the Shelbourne Hotel to one of Dublin’s most famous pubs and erstwhile home of the Dubliners, O’Donoghue’s pub, a few hundred yards down the road.

With so many of the heroes of 1982 now retired, we weren’t given much chance of making an impact on the 1985 championship even if we did push the 1984 Grand Slam-winning Wallaby touring side closer than any of the other home nations had managed the previous November. France were the clear favorites.

That afternoon in O Donoghue’s, accompanied by a singsong that the Dubliners themselves would have been proud of, the final seeds were sown on uniting a very talented group of men into a team of real substance.

The rest, as they say, is history with Spillane and Carr contributing handsomely to a magnificent team effort that delivered another Triple Crown and Five Nations championship success.

Only a 15-15 draw against an excellent French side denied us a first Grand Slam since 1948 in a bloodbath at Lansdowne Road. Who knows what might have happened if that newly- constructed side had to contend with England in the opening game which, due to the postponement, became the last game of the campaign?

I firmly believe it all worked in our favour as it afforded us two more weeks of preparation before meeting the 1984 Grand Slam champions Scotland in Edinburgh with a new and inexperienced side. It also gave us an afternoon in a famous Dublin hostelry that is still recalled fondly every time that group of players meets up.

While the class of 2018 haven’t been discommoded in any meaningful way, save a change in training venue, by the adverse weather conditions of the last few days — how fortunate were the IRFU that those events coincided with the one weekend in four where the Aviva Stadium wasn’t due to host a tournament fixture. Perhaps there is an element of serendipity in all of this.

Right now Ireland are strong favorites to land another championship success — it could even happen this weekend depending on results and bonus points elsewhere — to go with the two already delivered by Joe Schmidt back in 2014 and 2015.

Since then Eddie Jones has ruled the roost with back-to-back successes, even if last year’s had a deflationary feel to it coming on the back of his first defeat as England coach in Dublin. The fact that the only other defeat in his 26 tests in charge arrived last time out courtesy of our next opponents adds further to the intrigue of Saturday’s clash.

The immediate challenge for Scotland is to replicate the excellence they have been delivering consistently of late in Murrayfield — since 2017 they have beaten Ireland, Wales, Italy, Samoa, Australia, France and England there while coming within five points of New Zealand (17-22) last November. But crucially they have been unable to match those impressive performances away from Edinburgh. Last time on the road Wales smashed them 34-7 against the odds in the opening round of this championship, scoring four tries in the process. That defeat must still be at the back of their minds as the failure to play anywhere near the form produced consistently at Murrayfield remains an issue.

Their record on the road in this tournament is a real problem. Italy apart, Scotland haven’t won an away Six Nations game since beating Ireland in the last rugby international staged at Croke Park eight years ago.

Schmidt is the type of coach that leaves nothing to chance, regardless of the quality of opposition, and is not a man inclined to rely on fate. Yet, in the buildup to that win over Wales, he questioned whether Ireland’s recent luck in that particular fixture might be due a turn for the better.

Jacob Stockdale’s well-timed interception at the death which guaranteed an Irish win might not be viewed as lucky — the Ulster try scoring machine backed his instincts in going for gold — but perhaps the snowy omens of the past week might just point the more superstitious amongst us towards another Irish championship success.

The remaining question then is whether it comes laced with only a third ever Irish rugby Grand Slam.

Let’s just get the Scots out of the way first!

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