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Billy Keane: Our troops may have lost the battle but war can still be won


Brian O'Driscoll, Ireland, hands off Danny Care

Brian O'Driscoll, Ireland, hands off Danny Care


Brian O'Driscoll, Ireland, hands off Danny Care

There will be those who will dwell on what might have been. There are those who will dwell on the mistakes. But some of us saw an Irish team for the ages. Men who are brave and daring giving their all. Men honouring the Irish jersey in a game that never stood still.

It was as restless as the ocean, with giant swells and crashing waves. England fought back and for that they deserved to win. The battle was lost but the war can be won.

The build-up was a military tattoo. The British army and navy invaded the pitch. You sensed they would have landed a Spitfire but for the strong probability the fighter plane would cut up the pitch.

When the excellent High Kings sang 'Ireland's Call', the woolly hatted band of the Coldstream Guards joined in. The away anthem was given new life by the thousands of Irish present. At least the High Kings stayed to sing for the women's game. The Coldstream Guards fecked off back to the barracks.


After 'God Save The Queen', off went fireworks, flame throwers and smoke bombs. You'd half expect young Willie McBride to come out with his hands up shouting "I surrender". The morality of a display with such a military theme in the 100th year since the slaughter of World War I is a story for another day, but in the context of a sporting occasion the scene was set for a battle.

The game travelled from goal line to goal line. There was no let up. Hits were hard. Men were men. Men were shook. Both sides had chances. Jonathan Sexton probed, loped, looped and caressed the ball on to running Irish men in a patch around the 15th minute. We should have had two wing tries. England tried to bash their way through. Not for the first time, Conor Murray pulled off a try-saving tackle. Such a contrast in style, but with the common thread of fierce commitment.

England were bigger but we lassoed them around the ankles. We won the scrums and they won the breakdowns. Our line-out was good. They were huge and they knew it. The pace was relentless.

Rob Kearney's wonderful try came from an old Leinster training ground move. Then Sexton kicked a tricky penalty in the rising wind. We thought we had it. The Irish there claimed Twickenham for Athenry but England never gave in either. Their try was spectacular and worthy of winning such a battle. Sexton will rue a botched restart but he gave all out there and so did every other Irishman.

We overdid the praise after the win against Wales. This week we are overdoing the knocking. We need to stay with this team. Some of you will adopt bombastic criticism as your own. I was there and Irish rugby is in a good place. We defended well and the improvement will be ongoing. If the Marquess of Queensbury was reffing, Owen Farrell would have been yellow carded for a very late tackle on Murray.

Brian O'Driscoll will not be around for the new age. He equalled George Gregan's world record for caps. Our national hero is still well worth his place. He was up against bigger men but he downed them all the time and led by example.

We met three staunch English men on the 50 pence bus to the game. They travelled from Newcastle in the north of England. "We are here," they said, "to say goodbye to Brian O'Driscoll." By the end, though, Brian was battered and bruised. The rest of us were worn out from just watching.

The night was a wake. The Turks Head has no apostrophe in the name. Con Houlihan would have objected to their licence. He had no time for those who ignored apostrophes.

Young lads were being hoisted up to stick tickets on the high ceiling. It was dangerous play. Men fell like the big trees we lost in the storm. There was no singing and we were hurting. The place was too much and we moved on to the civilised, Clare-owned Windermere near South Kenton station. There was time to reflect. One man dreaded facing work and the English on Monday morning. The Irish here are part of the weave of the many strands that is London. Following the team is a way of saying who they are and where they come from.

In the end it was the big men who did for us but our Irish emigrants can be very proud of their team.

We have a team worth following now. Near enough to the very best. This one-score defeat may not yet be an emigrant's lament. We can still win the championship outright, a feat we have only achieved seven times since World War II.

Indo Sport