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We should thank IRFU for saving us from a fate worse than Scotland

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Former coach Brian Ashton with Keith Wood during Ireland’s dark days in 1997

Former coach Brian Ashton with Keith Wood during Ireland’s dark days in 1997

Former coach Brian Ashton with Keith Wood during Ireland’s dark days in 1997

Within the umpteen hours of drama, tries, tension, fear and relief on Saturday, I found myself thinking on how far we've come as a rugby nation since the turn of the century.

Playing at Murrayfield still evokes memories of what was an impossible task for Ireland when I was growing up. The biennial win in Cardiff was about the only thing we could rely on in the '90s.

For a decade and a half following the 1985 Triple Crown, Ireland were perennial Wooden Spoon contenders. In the 14 Championships between '86 and '99, the team won a miserable 12 games.

Darkest just before the dawn, we managed three Wooden Spoons in a row during the grim days of Murray Kidd and Brian Ashton in late '90s.

In '99, the final year of the Five Nations, Scotland won their last Championship. Ireland, as was the norm, won just one game, and finished ahead of only France, bizarrely, on points difference.

What followed was Warren Gatland's gutting of the old guard after the shellacking in Twickenham in 2000, and Irish rugby hasn't looked back. That year, we beat Scotland for the first time in 12 years.

The renaissance was built on players like Keith Wood, who were sick of the image of a battling Ireland giving it everything for 60 minutes; a strong, modern coach in Gatland, the emergence of a golden generation led by Brian O'Driscoll.

But the IRFU also deserve massive credit for the way they handled the new professional game. It's hard to fathom now, but not everyone was happy at the club game getting left behind for a provincial system.

PLOUGHED

Nonetheless, the Union ploughed ahead with a system that would ultimately be aped by Wales and, too late, Scotland.

Look at the state of Scottish rugby - we've beaten them eight times in nine years - and you realise how easily it could have been Ireland.

Instead, we're celebrating back-to-back Six Nations, and there's a fan-base fantasising about a World Cup final this autumn.

It's nice to be envied instead of envious.

Irish Independent