Friday 27 April 2018

Rugby has blossomed since Dev's missed kicks

Sean Diffley

saturday view

Nothing is more responsible for the good old days than a bad memory. True for ya.

We have extolled the feats of our rugby teams in those days of amateurism before that Guillotine was applied in Paris in 1995. But discarding our rose-tinted glasses, the blunt fact is that in the amateur-era Five Nations, Ireland occupied the basement.

France, England, Wales and Scotland each had a superior winning record. We were the Cinderellas in those pre- revolutionary days: we managed just one Grand Slam in the pre-pro period, back in 1948.

Sure, we produced great individuals like Jack Kyle, Karl Mullen, Willie John McBride, Mike Gibson, Syd Millar, Ollie Campbell and Tony Ward and, some would assert, the best referees too.

And the club scene? In those good old days, the likes of Harlequins and Leicester would consider that playing in Ireland was demeaningly consorting with the hoi polloi.

But, boy, how things have changed. Now we are producing Grand Slams and Triple Crowns and luxuriating at the top of the pile in the European club game.

Leinster, Munster and Ulster all reached the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup; there are two sides from France and just one each from England, Scotland and Wales.

It's not so long ago that Ronan O'Gara was ridiculed in certain Fleet Street organs for saying that the Celtic League was superior to the England Premiership. I have not seen any apology to ROG.

The success in this professional era is due to the efficiency of the IRFU and good man-management, with only a single international-class Irish player, Tommy Bowe, plying his trade abroad.

There is, of course, a deeper explanation: the expansion of the playing population and the conviction that rugby suits the Irish psyche.

It was Eamon de Valera, years ago, who proclaimed that hurling and rugby were the best and most natural sports for the Irish. Not that he would be the paragon of rugby ideology.

He once captained a Blackrock Junior (now Metropolitan) Cup team, undefeated in 22 matches in his captaincy season and won the final by 13 tries to nil.

A report of that final in our sports pages of long ago, told the readers that "the Blackrock captain, E de Valera, missed all 13 conversions."

Many decades later, a lady's voice on the phone to the sports department enquired if the current Metropolitan Cup was the same as the Junior Cup.

It was, the sports reporter told her, and asked who was wondering. "This is Sinead Bean de Valera, from the Aras and the president wants to know."

He wasn't, by the way, asked for a quote about those missed conversions; the reporter was a discreet gentleman.

There weren't too many schools playing the game back then but nowadays, in the burgeoning code, there are 65,000 schoolboys registered and 17,000 youths. The good new days.

Irish Independent

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