ENDA MCEVOY: An afternoon of light, sweetness and beards

An afternoon of light, sweetness and the return of the redhead from Limerick, with the latter occurrence contributing substantially to the former.

By the end of proceedings the RTÉ panel are positively giddy, comparing Jonathan Sexton to Dan Carter and salivating at the prospect of a Triple Crown decider at Twickenham next Saturday week. Yes, that much sweetness, that much light and ne’er a cross word or half-decent argument at any stage along the way. Grr. Was it for this that Edward Fitzgerald died, Roger Casement — more of him, improbably, in a moment — was hanged and we pay our licence fee?

We mention Roger Casement because George Hook did. It was Gordon D’Arcy’s fault. That beard of his. Tom McGurk reckoned it made him look ‘Edwardian’; George went further, as George usually does, and made the Casement comparison.

Unfortunately neither had the opportunity to assess the facial hair of Welsh sub Jake Ball, who was sporting a beard as big as a rhododendron bush (copyright: Edmund Blackadder). Somehow one doesn’t visualise the trend catching on as a fashion.

Still, as long as both D’Arcy and Ball stay well away from lonely Banna Strand they should be okay.

With Paul O’Connell, he of the psychotic eye (copyright: Ronan O’Gara), over his chest infection and back in the team, Ireland are on the front foot from the off against the men of the leek. At the end of the opening quarter they’re only 6-0 ahead, however.

Ryle Nugent, no longer the gushing fountain of his younger days and a more measured, thoughtful commentator as a result, is beginning to get twitchy. ‘For Wales it could be worse. For Ireland it should be better.’

Then the hosts win a lineout a few metres from the Welsh line. In the commentary box Donal Lenihan tees it up nicely by pointing out Ireland scored against New Zealand and Scotland from a similar position; on the field Devin Toner tees it up nicely by winning the lineout and setting Chris Henry up for the try. Ryle allows himself to exhale. ‘The scoreboard reflects what Ireland will feel was their dominance’ — ie what Ryle felt was their dominance. At the interval he sums up Ireland’s performance in three words: control, accuracy and dynamism. The Ryle Nugent equivalent of God the Father, God the Son and God the Bod.

Hang on, though. It’s rapidly becoming clear God the Paulie has a rival in the pack. Peter O’Mahony is having a blinder, making steals and turnovers and putting in big hits everywhere. ‘Every time he puts on an Irish shirt he grows in stature and grows in importance,’ Ryle announces. That’s good up to a point. But a word of warning. O’Mahony is, what, 6’4” or so. Even though he’s a growing boy, would it really be healthy for him to grow any more? Hmm. As it is, when O’Connell departs after 54 minutes it’s to an ovation so huge it could almost be O’Mahony. Given it’s not the All Blacks they’re facing, Ireland close things out in comfort and even add a late try.

Fortunately, if inconveniently for Sunday newspaper news editors seeking an arresting photo for their front page, it’s scored by Paddy Jackson rather than Brian O’Driscoll. After the embarrassment of the communal national nervous breakdown that followed the Gatland/O’Driscoll controversy in Australia, it’s to be hoped the episode has finally been put to bed.

The post-match reaction from the panel is like the Hallelujah Chorus without the music bit. To George it’s ‘the best Irish performance since the Grand Slam’; presumably he means 2009 rather than 1948. The other panellists vie for ways to describe the method the winners employed to murder the enemy; to Conor O’Shea it was a foot on the throat, to Shane Horgan strangulation. You get the picture anyway. Bottom line, by 4.30pm the Welsh leek was very droopy indeed. Comes from having leeked all those tries. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

What’s next? Twickenham. A possible Triple Crown, even — according to Brent Pope — ‘a potential Grand Slam’ after it. All is sweetness, light and beards. Such is the afternoon that’s in it. How disconcerting.


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