Hooky tied up in knots as Irish magic wears off

It all starts so well.

That was one of the disappointments afterwards. George Hook is resplendent in a gold dickie-bow and Ireland turn over the first English scrum. What can possibly go wrong thereafter? There’s just one tiny problem and sadly it proves an insurmountable one. It’s not Scotland or Wales we’re up against this time.

So okay, it’s clear from the off that there will be no repeat of the Twickenham nightmare of two years ago, when the scrum collapsed and the visitors had to send out to Connollys’ of Chiswick for the first punter they could find to come down and help out in the front row.

But within six minutes, after a period of grinding English pressure (“power, power and more power,” as Ralph Keyes puts it), Jonny May crosses the Irish line only — and startlingly on second viewing from a different angle — to fail to ground the ball. Jonny May? Jonny Shoulda, Jonny Didn’t and Jonny Will Get His Arse Kicked By the Manager at Half-time.

Maybe my ears were deceiving me — advancing years and all that — but I could have sworn I was hearing the strains of Dexy’s Midnight Runners in the background. Poor old Johnny May indeed.

Come the interval Ireland are 3-0 down and very, very lucky to have got nil. Those Aviva romps against the prickle-less thistle and wilting leek haven’t prepared us for England’s enormous physical force and aggression. “The battle of the bodies,” declares Tom McGurk with considerable understatement. If Ian Rush were alongside him in studio he’d doubtless say it’s like Ireland are playing a different country.

Still, George, Shane Horgan and Brent Pope (“we’ve been kicked up and down the park”) are cautiously optimistic on the basis that there’s only a score in it. Brent digresses to condemn Jonny May for not keeping two hands on the hurley. Or perhaps it was two hands on the ball. I really am getting deaf.

It probably escaped the attention of most rugby followers last Friday that JK Rowling took to Twitter to reveal that Scotland are the favourite team of wizards around the world. (Sure enough, she was in like Flynn the following afternoon to hail Duncan Weir’s unearthly winning drop goal against Italy as “MAGIC!!!”). Judging by what happens in the 10 minutes after the restart in Twickenham one can only assume the wizards’ second-favourite team is Ireland.

Out of thin air the men in green conjure a try, Rob Kearney flying in under the posts after a neat playbook move. A few minutes later Jonny Sexton hoists a beauty from an angle on the right. Now, improbably, it’s 10-3 for Ireland. The other Jonny, our new friend Jonny Shoulda, must be feeling pretty stupid.

England reply from a penalty. Then disaster strikes. Enter Johnny Can’t Find Touch From the Restart. The hosts are suddenly on the front foot and within moments Danny Care nips in for the matchwinning try. Bah.

In notable contrast to the aftermath of the New Zealand game last November, when there were tears before bedtime on the panel, phlegmatic disappointment is the order of the evening back in studio.

(Pity. It’s always much more entertaining watching George blow, or pretend to blow, a gasket).

The panellists acknowledge England were the better, more physical team, if not necessarily the more attractive team, though there is mild dissension as to whether Ireland’s kicking game was wrong in theory or merely in execution. It falls to George to cast oil on troubled waters.

“We’re differing in agreement, if you know what I mean. We’re disagreeing in the actual minutiae of the argument but in agreement that essentially it was England’s superior physical... thing... that won the match.”

Quite. Their... thing.

It also falls to George, at Tom’s request, to lift the drooping spirits of the viewer. After all, Tom notes, the championship is still there to be won, and Ireland have an advantage in points difference. George tries his best (“we’ve a real shot at beating a demoralised France in Paris”) but you can see his heart isn’t really in it. Understandable. It’s been a disappointing evening.

And no amount of goodwill from the global sorcery community or natty bowties can change that.


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