Tuesday 12 November 2019

Billy Keane: Zebo's dazzling trick would get Duffy's Circus seal of approval

Billy Keane

Billy Keane

Men with shiny trousers slipped off the edge of their seats. The Welsh, for once, could not sing. They were too busy roaring on their team.

Only boom-time property developers will understand the massive upheaval. We destroyed Wales for 45 minutes and then the Irish spent most of the second half clock-watching as super-fit Wales drove at us. We just about hung on.

Two years ago our good friend Joe Nolan, then president of Bective Rangers Rugby Club, died here from a massive heart attack. One of the lads said if Joe had survived "he would have died again today from the excitement". Poor Joe was a kind fella. He was six-year-old Jonathan Sexton's first coach, and Jonathan visited Joe's last stop yesterday morning.

Joe's friends tied a bunch of flowers to the side of the bus stop where he fell. There were a few words spoken and much laughter. Joe was fond of the older woman. You think you know someone. We were told he was married once. To a 30-years-older lady who threw the javelin for Germany in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin when Hitler refused to shake hands with Jesse Owens because of the colour of his skin.

The Welsh shook our hands. They really do see us as their Celtic brothers and sisters. It would not be an exaggeration to say the Welsh would prefer to be beaten by us than anyone else. "Beat the English please," exhorted the three lovely policewomen we met.

But first I think we are entitled to enjoy our win. For a few days anyway. When I was very small, my dad and mam brought me to the zoo. It was feeding time at the fun pool. The seal keeper threw a mackerel but his pass went astray. The plan was to land the fish in the jumping seal's wide-open mouth, but the mackerel landed well behind the tail end.


In fairness to the seal keeper, it's not easy to pass a mackerel accurately, what with the fish being so slippery and all that.

The seal was quick and clever. Somehow he turned back his head while twisting his body in the opposite direction. He was more like an eel than a seal.

The seal made his tail into the shape of a shovel. He caught the fish flush. The mackerel became a flying fish and the tail bat sent him straight into the seal's mouth.

It was the greatest trick I have ever seen.

Until Saturday that is.

Simon Zebo flicked an awkward shaped ball going backwards, up and forward, into his outstretched hands. You felt like throwing coins in his hat. Simon is bound to be offered a job in either Duffy's Circus or Riverdance. That heel flick with his left was an outrageous piece of showmanship and we scored an incredible try out of it.

Zebo is a shooter too. In rugby terms a shooter is a player who breaks forward suddenly from the straight line of the defence.

The shooter is a last resort and is only used when you are hopelessly outnumbered – the shooter has to flatten the opposition player before he can pass the parcel. Craig Gilroy and Jonathan Sexton risked all and saved certain tries.

Sexton put the horse-trading of recent weeks behind him. He was, as they say in Dublin's inner city, "only brilliant". Not a kick was missed. Near the end he threw himself in front a huge Welshman, Toby Faletau, who was trying to tip the ball off the padding around the post. It was a last-gasp tackle that left 73,320 breathless.

Peter O'Mahony and Donnacha Ryan were less spectacular but equally effective. They only know the brave way. They are men's men and players' players. Brian O'Driscoll looked as if he was worn out after 25 minutes but he showed us all that giving up is never an option for the brave and the free, in sport or in life. We were so proud of him.

So proud too, to be Irish in Wales, or anywhere else. For this was a win to savour. A day when there was no hiding place and a day when no Irishman hid.

Irish Independent

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