Rugby

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Time to party as grim year ends with rousing send-off

Published 25/11/2012|05:00

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Kidney must give youth its fling after dazzling show, says Eamonn Sweeney

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It was quite a fancy dress party at the Aviva. Fancy dress because Donnacha Ryan went as Paul O'Connell, Craig Gilroy went as Shane Williams, Johnny Sexton Ireland went as Johnny Sexton Leinster and Argentina went as Fiji. Oh, and Ireland went as the All Blacks.

And party because after the most unimpressive year Irish rugby has endured in quite some time, its finale was something which not only gives hope for the future but leaves you positively eager to see what the team will do next. Ireland were that good, that exciting, that downright refreshing.

A November international which was expected to provide us with the grim slog usual when these two teams meet instead turned out like a Barbarians exhibition match at the height of summer.

The supposedly crucial preservation of our eighth spot in the world rankings had slipped the mind long before the final whistle. Partly because the result was put absolutely beyond doubt when Simon Zebo slipped in for Ireland's fourth try in the 32nd minute and in truth had looked blindingly obvious as early as the 21st minute when Richardt Strauss, showing that nothing makes you look as truly Irish as a Keith Wood impersonation, burrowed over in the right corner.

And partly because this was a case of never mind the win feel the quality.

Even making allowances for the fact that this was the poorest Argentinian performance since the final week of the Falklands War and that you'd have seen better tackling from the chorus line of Evita, Ireland were still immensely impressive, their aggression, confidence and clinical finishing having a distinct southern hemisphere quality.

No one man is ever responsible for a team performance like this, but it has to be said that Craig Gilroy set the tone. Few Irish players have debuted with such high expectations surrounding them but Argentina proved no more able to halt the gallop of the Ulster winger than the Fijian reserves had been.

From the get-go he was taking them on and there was an inevitability about his slalom through the South American ranks in the 10th minute for what promises to be the first of many, many tries in the green jersey.

Gilroy also played a major role in the lead-up to both of Sexton's tries and his boldness seemed to imbue his team-mates with a similar spirit of adventure.

Sexton was the imperious commander we always see playing for Leinster but who turns up less often for Ireland, an absolutely perfect Garryowen setting in train the move which led to Zebo's try, an astute grubber kick sending Tommy Bowe for the first of his two second-half scores, tries which showed that claims Gilroy gives us an unprecedented attacking threat on the wing aren't entirely correct.

Zebo at full-back showed a spirit of youthful enterprise not often seen from Irish 15s. You'd hope that his and Gilroy's displays and the contribution they made to a different kind of Irish performance will be remembered by Declan Kidney when the Six Nations rolls round. This game should be regarded as the beginning of a new era rather than as a brief diversion.

All these backline fireworks were based on an utterly dominant forward performance which saw the Argentinian lineout reduced to pitiful incoherence and their much vaunted scrum pulverised. Cian Healy easily mastered his 21-stone opponent Maximiliano Bustos, who eventually showed his frustration by throwing the ball at the Leinster prop and getting a yellow card for his troubles. Given the general incompetence of the Argentinians on the day, it was surprising that Bustos actually hit Healy with his shot.

Ryan was enormous, a long-time fringe player embracing the role of a leader and Mike McCarthy was up there with him. Strauss' energetic performance made you long for the debuts of Gustavt Mahler and Igort Stravinsky. Rumours of the demise of Irish rugby at international level turn out to have been grievously exaggerated. We'll spend the time till the Six Nations salivating at the thought of seeing Gilroy in full flight again and wondering if this performance might be the harbinger of seriously great things.

Oh what a circus, oh what a show.

Sunday Indo Sport

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