After a busy weekend of sport, five things stood out to Eamonn Sweeney.
England on a higher plain
THE frightening thing about England’s demolition of Scotland is that it was the kind of performance Ireland and the other Six Nations sides simply aren’t capable of producing. It looked as though England were playing not just in a different competition but in another sport to our national team. In explosiveness, ambition and imagination, it was a display only the All Blacks are capable of emulating.
Irish people tend to be a bit begrudging about English rugby. Residual Anglophobia can lead us to claim that even its grandest achievements are not quite kosher. Clive Woodward’s side might have been the finest in Six Nations history and the only one from this hemisphere to win the World Cup but we liked to criticise it for a perceived lack of adventure and shortcomings in the field of diplomatic protocol.
Similarly, there seems to be a reluctance to acknowledge just what an achievement 18 unbeaten Test matches on the trot constitutes. Ireland do have a shot at ending that run next Saturday but if we do we will be beating a great team. There is a certain degree of wishful thinking about the ‘England aren’t all they’re cracked up to be’ line.
The sole consolation to be taken from Twickenham was the way Jonathan Joseph, Dylan Hartley, George Ford and others proved that it’s never too late in the Six Nations for a quality player to spark into form. You hope the likes of Robbie Henshaw, Seán O’Brien, Rory Best and Jack McGrath can follow their lead. Otherwise, a first reverse Triple Crown since 1998 looms.
Barca back down to earth
Football doesn’t give you much time to rest on your laurels. Just four days after executing the greatest comeback of all-time, Barcelona found themselves in need of rescue once more as a 74th-minute header from Alex Bergantinos left the La Liga champions 2-1 down away to fourth-from-bottom Deportivo La Coruna.
In the absence of the injured Neymar, the burden fell on his MSN colleagues. Luis Suarez (above) did his bit with a goal early in the second half to cancel out the home team’s shock lead. And when Lionel Messi stood over a free-kick on the edge of the box at the beginning of stoppage-time, salvation seemed to be at hand for the favourites. Instead his shot flew well over.
This time there was no miracle. Victory went instead to a team winning for just the second time in 13 matches thanks to a goal scored by a player having his first start of the season. No wonder Luis Enrique was looking gloomy again.
Hill re-ignites old rivalry
Celtic partisans might not agree but Clint Hill’s equaliser for Rangers with three minutes left in the Old Firm derby was just what the Scottish Premier League needed.
The 38-year-old defender struck to secure a 1-1 draw and it was the final flourish in an Old Firm derby of a kind not witnessed for years, one which was tense, exciting and, above all, competitive.
The end of Celtic’s long run of victories coincides with the appointment of new Rangers boss Pedro Caixinha who hopefully can make Glasgow’s second team realistic title contenders once again.
Should that happen, Celtic would be among the major beneficiaries.
This year’s litany of victories has a hollow feel to it after another debacle of a European campaign showed how far the Scottish champions have fallen behind the elite of the game.
Without serious domestic competition Celtic will always go into Europe at a disadvantage.
This Celtic Park clash was a reminder of better days in Scottish football. Like it or not, Celtic need Rangers.
Fine margins in the top tier
The National Hurling League might not be the most glamorous competition but it’s surely one of the most competitive.
The weekend’s results mean that going into the last round of fixtures on Sunday week all but one side, leaders Tipperary, can finish in any position from second to sixth and last. The margins between a quarter-final place and a relegation play-off will be very tight.
While Tipperary’s draw with Kilkenny was undoubtedly the best game of the series, Cork’s defeat of Waterford was perhaps the most significant, and surprising, result. Coming off two morale-sapping defeats in a row the Rebels were faced with an away tie against a team who appeared to have moved significantly ahead of them in the Munster pecking order.
In the circumstances their comprehensive victory will, for a moment at least, lessen the misery enveloping the county.
Next up... Tipperary.
Women earned the spotlight
When the Irish women’s rugby team saw the fixtures for the Six Nations championship they’d have realised that victory in their first four games would probably present them with a Grand Slam-deciding showdown against England on St Patrick’s Day in Dublin.
So it has come to pass after a typically nerve-wracking 12-7 win over Wales in Cardiff on Saturday, Old Belvedere winger Hannah Tyrrell scoring the clinching try.
The English team they will face are world champions and have gone through the championship like a juggernaut, scoring 30 tries to Ireland’s nine.
Nevertheless the nature and date of the finale gives Irish women’s rugby one of its best ever shots at capturing the public eye. They’ve lived up to their side of the bargain.