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Monday 1 September 2014

Massive cheer from rival fans doesn't ease the strife of Brian

Lise Hand

Published 24/02/2014 | 02:30

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A dejected Brian O'Driscoll after leaving the pitch on Saturday. Photo: Sportsfile
Irish fans Lorraine Mc Guinness, Aoife Finnegan and Julie McGee outside Twickenham. Photo: Kyran O'Brien

ON A packed train from central London, two men from Ipswich were eagerly looking forward to the match.

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They were quietly confident that Stuart Lancaster's young side would prevail, but there was another reason they had selected this particular fixture for their annual Six Nations foray to Twickenham.

"We wanted a last look at Brian O'Driscoll. He's a world-class player and if he had played for England we'd have been a very different team," they explained.

But cut the Clontarf man, and he bleeds green.

Which is why everyone wanted a fairytale ending for the prince of Irish rugby whose career has been sprinkled with stardust.

But not even the sunniest of Irish optimists (if indeed such an animal exists) thought this would be an easy task, despite the quality and experience of a team that clinically dismantled Scotland and Wales at home.

Twickenham is a formidable fortress. The pre-match roared rendition of 'God Save the Queen' loosened fillings for miles around.

But there is an odd jingoistic element too, in the conspicuous role played by the armed forces in this sporting event.

Of course the Irish were there in huge numbers – an estimated 25,000 of us – gamely singing the unloveable but inevitable 'Ireland's Call' and challenging the home crowd to a sing-off – 'Chariots' versus 'Athenry'.

This was the Big One for both sides, and there was a sense that whoever got an early upper hand would control this contest.

Irish hearts sank after six minutes when it looked as if winger Jonny May had gone over, but Conor Murray did enough to ensure he lost the ball as he went to touch it down.

Twickenham groaned, drowning out the collective exhalation of Irish breath. It was tense, and it was close until half time.

And oh what a dream start to the second half.

The fans had barely settled back into their seats when Rob Kearney burst through the England defence and touched down under the posts. Johnny Sexton converted.

And then the hammer of the rugby gods fell. The tide suddenly turned with an abysmal restart kick from Sexton, after England put over another penalty.

Minutes later, the fleet-footed Danny Care touched down for England, and Farrell converted. 13-10. 'Chariots' rang out as the cauldron of Twickenham boiled with pride. Just before the whistle, Brian O'Driscoll limped off to a massive cheer from both sets of fans. One imagines it was poor consolation.

Afterwards, Joe Schmidt and Paul O'Connell offered no excuses.

On the bright side, the Six Nations championship is still within Ireland's grasp.

But still. This one hurts.

The morning after, the 'Telegraph' showed a triumphant Danny Care under the headline 'Danny Boy'. Oh boy. It's the small instances that break your heart.

Six Nations special: Sport

Irish Independent

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