Wednesday 13 December 2017

Who would you choose: Schmidt's risk-free crew or Eddie's adventurers?

Captain Brian O'Driscoll examines the Triple Crown trophy after Ireland's famous win over England in 2006
Captain Brian O'Driscoll examines the Triple Crown trophy after Ireland's famous win over England in 2006

Donny Mahoney

It's been interesting to observe the inquisition on the state of modern rugby these last two weeks. Perhaps it's a sign of the maturity of the professional game that it can endure such an interrogation on its value, both as entertainment vehicle and public good, and still generate the hype of Ireland v England.

In hindsight, we don't know how lucky we had it. Rugby may be mired in a boring patch, but this is nothing on its earliest incarnation when it was one of the most boring of all sports. There's about a 20-year window - roughly the span of the first five World Cups - where brains and brawn, the game's yin and yang, were tantalisingly aligned.

In doing research for tonight's Roadshow at the Mansion House, I re-experienced, via YouTube, what I believe to be the apex of the game we love and the one we feel we are losing. Saturday, March 18, 2006. England v Ireland at Twickenham.

It was a game played at a breakneck pace, full of mad tries, gonzo running, and scrums rampaging 30 metres down the field. Nine years later, Paul O'Connell is pretty much the only link to that 28-24 win. Ireland's two second-half tries typify the madness. On the first, the English hooker, despite throwing from deep inside his line, overthrows his entire line and there's no one to stop Denis Leamy barrelling over.

The second we remember better. With 77.45 played, off an Irish scrum, down three, behind his own 10-metre line, O'Gara attempts 'a little chip and chase' to set off what I'd describe as the greatest try Ireland ever scored. (There's an entire book in it, and a subsection in O'Gara's rucking after Shane Horgan was initially tackled.) The audacity of it still amazes me. Would Schmidt's Ireland ever attempt something so daring?

The problem, from an Irish perspective, isn't that rugby is suddenly crap. It's that generation of genius is gone from us now.

It does raise one tantalising hypothetical: you've got to pick a combination to win the World Cup final; do you take Eddie's balls-to-wall squad or take the Schmidt and Sexton axis?

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