Not a move endorsed by Julie Andrews, never mind rehearsed on the training field under the watchful eye of Joe Schmidt, but let’s start at the very end, writes Enda McEvoy.
It’s a little past 7pm on Saturday evening and social media is blazing with righteous condemnation of George Hook.
Mr Foghorn had more or less declared beforehand that this was — shades of Brendan Rodgers — a team chosen in the full knowledge it would lose. Let’s see you contort your way out of that, O Garrulous One.
He does so with a Houdiniesque insouciance, of course. George is exactly where he wants to be, in full view of the cameras, and he correctly judges that a full and frank act of contrition is the proper course of action.
Bless me, Saint Joe (more of whom anon), for I have sinned.
Give him his due, it’s a handsome mea culpa. In brief: I’ve never got it so wrong. I totally underestimated the ability demonstrated by the manager and players. It was a triumph for extraordinary coaching, unbelievable discipline and an incredible gameplan. “For the first time in my lifetime,” George adds, “the Irish squad are capable of going to the World Cup, doing better than any of its predecessors and...”
Oooh, do tell. Winning the thing? Getting to the final? “Reaching the semi-finals,” he finishes, a little awkwardly. Oh most lame and impotent conclusion!
Still, he’s probably right not to overdo it. Go, my son, and sin no more.
Before all of that there was the first half, which made for increasingly disturbing viewing the longer it wore on. After a bright start by the men in the white jerseys it’s the visitors who dominate the second quarter, and though Ireland lead 6-3 at the break Shane Horgan frets that they’ve been spending “a little too much time in their own half”.
George is unable to give an opinion on the virtues or otherwise of the new midfield pairing of Jared Payne and Robbie Henshaw — “you can’t tell, really” — because Jonathan Sexton “hasn’t passed the ball in anger”. I’m not totally sure from my shorthand whether Brent Pope actually said that Ireland “have both fingers in the dyke”, but if he did you know what he meant.
Viewers of a nervous disposition are unlikely to be reassured by a half-time clip from inside the Springboks’ dressing room. What appears to be a one-to-one scale replica of Table Mountain is ambling around the place. On closer inspection it’s one of the subs. This could get very gnarly indeed in the second half, what with the size of yer man and his chums on the bench. Even their names engender a prickle of fear. Bakkies Botha. Schalk Burger. Bismarck Behemoth. Tommy Bonecrusher. Ugh.
But the locals delay what seems like the inevitable via a Rhys Ruddock try shortly after the resumption, and they’re six points ahead in the 66th minute when replacement hooker Adriaan Strauss is sinbinned. Four minutes later Sexton nails a penalty. A 19-10 lead on the scoreboard, a 15-14 advantage on the pitch: surely Ireland can’t blow this now.
It’s not the All Blacks they’re facing, which is clearly a help. Further assistance arrives when they work the ball into midfield and Conor Murray chips into the right corner for a man in a white jersey to come steaming into town on the Emyvale Express.
His name? Not Tommy Bowe but — come on down, Ryle Nugent — “Tommy Bowwwwwwwwwe!!!!!”
Ireland are home and hosed. “You never count the chickens but you can line them up now,” Ryle exults. A small rap on the knuckles to Shane, however, for calling Bowwwwwwwwwe’s try a “pre-planned move”.
No, Shane, it was “planned”. To term it “pre-planned” is a mangling of the English language up with which, like Winston Churchill (apocryphally), this column is not prepared to put.
Ryle reckons Joe Schmidt is approaching “sainthood territory”. The sainted one himself pops up to claim, endearingly, he’s merely “an interested spectator who makes the odd substitution”. Shane points out by way of context that it’s a victory over southern hemisphere opposition in a World Cup season. Brent hymns Saint Joe’s tactical awareness and declares that the result “will rock the world. If we go to the World Cup and play like this...”
Yes, we know. George already said it, remember? We’ll reach the semi-finals.
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