Tuesday 27 September 2016

Off the Ball: Past deeds should set rugby standard

Michael McCarthy

Published 17/03/2016 | 02:30

Ireland's victory against Italy left plenty of room for optimism despite a slow start to the campaign (SPORTSFILE)
Ireland's victory against Italy left plenty of room for optimism despite a slow start to the campaign (SPORTSFILE)

The Off The Ball Roadshow came to Dublin's RDS last night with a rugby special featuring an all-star line-up including Brian O'Driscoll, Sean O'Brien, Luke Fitzgerald and Ciaran Fitzgerald.

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Being honest, I have to admit that Ireland's start to the Six Nations didn't fill us with much excitement for this show in the run-up. How interested were people going to be in a two-hour rugby special that could turn into a post-mortem on Joe Schmidt and the Irish team?

The green shoots of the Italy performance last Saturday certainly helped, but in many ways it was irrelevant.

For all the talk of bandwagons that goes along with any rugby discourse in certain portions of the media, the fact is that there is as much interest as ever in the game, no matter how Ireland and the provinces are doing. Tickets flew out the door.

The fact also is that it didn't have to be a post-mortem. There's nothing wrong with a transitional year if that's what it turns out to be. None of the performances this year were really that bad.

The Wales game was a phenomenal game of rugby. We should have won in Paris. We had our moments against England. Then, against a poor Italy, it all clicked.

Thrilling

You put them all together, and you look to the future with a little more excitement. Last night, though, we looked to the past as much as to the future.

When researching the Ciaran Fitzgerald interview, one thing that really struck me was the kind of rugby Ireland were playing in the Triple Crown years of 1982 and 1985.

Some of the tries scored in those seasons were spectacular. Our tries against Scotland and Wales in '85 in particular all came from thrilling backline moves that covered the width of the pitch.

Somehow, Ireland have been labelled traditionally as a dogged, up-front outfit, but our greatest success has always come with electric back play.

In the 1990s, we played a ten-man game, with poor Simon Geoghegan standing out on the wing catching pneumonia. That was the wooden spoon era. No surprise.

The emergence of O'Driscoll, and later Gordon D'Arcy, along with the likes of Denis Hickie and Geordan Murphy, launched another era of success in the 2000s.

Old black and white clips of historic Ireland tries will show you the kind of rugby Mike Gibson and Jack Kyle liked to play. It wasn't up the jumper by any means.

So maybe we're not being all that ridiculous when we call for the expansive, offloading game that we want to see from Ireland now.

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