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'These players have an aura . . . you can rely on them to perform'


Former Ireland legend Shane Horgan

Former Ireland legend Shane Horgan

Martin Corry, who was reunited with rival Shane Horgan recently

Martin Corry, who was reunited with rival Shane Horgan recently


Former Ireland legend Shane Horgan

There was no long grass for Ireland to get into this week. And perhaps more pertinently, no one in the Ireland camp has been looking for it either.

The attitude going to London has changed. England may have won the last three meetings, but it's a long time since 15 angry Irish men landed at Twickenham hoping that blinding aggression would see them home.

When it came to taking on the 'auld enemy,' Shane Horgan was part of the group that turned hope into expectation. The 2004 win, when the world champions were toppled during their homecoming celebration, was a watershed moment, according to Horgan.

A game where Ireland's attitude to England – and themselves – changed fundamentally.

"After we beat them in 2004, there was a feeling that this was a game you could compete for every year," Horgan recalls. "In any of the games since we were never massive underdogs, whereas for the previous 15 years Ireland always were."

Horgan played when Ireland won in 2006 and again in 2007 in Croke Park. In fact, his personal record against England went unblemished until 2008, playing and winning five times on the bounce before losing out in one of his last games in a green shirt. He missed any defeats during this period through injury.

"Only good memories," smiles the London-based Horgan, who is seeing out the final months of his studies to become a solicitor.

And with that string of results in mind, he welcomes the quiet confidence that has emanated from Ireland this week.


For a country that, across the sporting spectrum, is generally more comfortable with the underdog tag, there has been an unsettling giddiness this week.

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The 2007 World Cup, when Ireland spoke loudly of themselves as contenders, serves as a reminder as to how quickly things can go wrong. There's a happy medium, Horgan says, and any positive noises coming from Carton House this week are to be welcomed.

"I don't think it's an admirable trait really to always want to be the underdog. I don't think there is massive honour in that, to want to be the perennial underdog. It's positive to say you want to be a leader and wanting to drive success. That's very different to talking yourself up, which is a bad idea.

"But setting goals to win championships and Triple Crowns and Grand Slams, that's something to be admired. If you don't set your goals high and you talk yourself down, that can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

"There is the balance between saying, 'we want to go for this' and going about it the right way and talking yourself up saying, 'we deserve to win it'. I don't think that sits well with the Irish psyche as rugby players and in general."

Still, with trips to London and Paris to come, talk of a Grand Slam seems loose. There's only been 10 Triple Crowns in well over a 100 years and that has been largely overlooked this week as the focus centres on the possibility of a perfect campaign.

Ireland's relationship there has changed dramatically too.

As Horgan recalls, Eddie O'Sullivan's men celebrated the 2004 Triple Crown "like they had won the World Cup," but three short years later it was different.

"At that stage, the Triple Crown wasn't enough," he says.

"We had won two already. For a few guys it might have been their first and that might have been different, but for the group there was a feeling of an anti-climax. I remember being in the dressing-room after the last game that year – which was Italy.

"They scored a try in the last minute and there was utter devastation in the changing-room – and that was after beating a team by 25 points. And it still took a try that wasn't by France to lose that championship. Looking back now, it's nice to say we won a Triple Crown. At the time though, it just wasn't enough."

That new attitude pervades the current squad. There exists now, Horgan points out, a group of players who know nothing but success with club and country.

"There's still a good number of them that have won a Grand Slam and once you have done that, that's what you are after and your bar has gone to that level. Everything else is maybe a bit of an anti-climax."

From camp England, there's been a charm offensive this week. Through no great effort, they generally make themselves easy to dislike, but as has generally been the case under Lancaster, they are understated.

Guinness brought Horgan and Martin Corry – without the trademark cut across the bridge of his nose – to Dublin this week as part of the build-up to today's game. And Horgan sees a return to the values that helped Corry and England to World Cup success in 2003.

"Martin was part of that insane England team. And there was a group that came after that who associated themselves with the success of that England team without having achieved the same success.

"The top of the tree was playing for England, but for (Corry's) group, the only top of the tree was success and Grand Slams and World Cups. The focus shifted from that a bit for a while, but Lancaster has made it clear that, although there are talented individuals there – it's team first now."

England have been hit by injury, but they've had the whole week to prepare for the absence of Dan Cole. There's much talk too of emerging out-half George Ford, who will likely make his debut off the bench.

One commentator pointed out that Jonny Wilkinson also made his international debut off the bench against Ireland.

"Ireland have better individuals and certainly have more game breakers. England play a game that is very controlled and considered. It is quite conservative, but it is low risk and low mistake stuff.

"Ireland have more subtlety in the backs and they have a wider skill-set. It's an intriguing match. England are readable, but you have to try and stop them which is very difficult."

"I'm one of those getting carried away (with Ireland's chances). It would be a huge mountain to climb, but I do think these players, especially in the last four months, have the aura of a team that will perform and they are guys you can rely on."

The relationship has changed. There's a more measured approach these days and winning – both home and away – can be expected.

Perhaps that will be one of the lasting legacies of the 'Golden Generation.'

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