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Monday, 3 April, 2000, 15:09 GMT 16:09 UK
Ireland add to Six Nations sparkle

Wales: Did well to bounce back from the eligibility row
Former Ireland international Willie Anderson says the Irish may have lost their final match against Wales, but they can still be proud of their achievements in the inaugural Six Nations.

Wales was always going to be the acid test for this Ireland side.

Six Nations Championship
England were just so good in the first match, producing top quality rugby worthy of a "first division" side.

The Scots came next, but they had no confidence and no organisation. Italy were even poorer.

The French match was a glorious one-off, real backs-to-the-wall stuff.

Last Saturday's game at Lansdowne Road was going to prove if Ireland had any real claim to a place near the top of the championship's "second division".

The inaugural Six Nations has shown that as a competition it has no equal - nothing matches it

Willie Anderson

Expectations ahead of the game weighed heavily on the guys. There was a lot of hype and lots of silly talk about money, making it difficult for the young players to get their feet back on the ground.

You could tell how tense they were before the match - it was written on their faces.

Wales, by contrast, were relaxed and joking around before the kick-off and it showed in the way they played.

Ireland lost a lot of possession to basic errors and that allowed the Welsh to dominate the game.

But the Welsh pack was out on its feet in the last 20 minutes and although Ireland played very well playing catch-up, they didn't exploit this fact by moving the opposition around.
Brian O'Driscoll
Brian O'Driscoll: Blistering pace

That said, there are a hell of a lot of positives to come out of this year's championship and I think Ireland finish on a par with Wales.

Ireland discovered new players who were able to come in and play without fear.

Keith Wood was an outstanding as captain and as a player, while the side generally discovered greater depth. There are more quality players to come back from injury and the A team won the Triple Crown.

Flanker Kieron Dawson was the stand-out forward - a revelation along the lines of Neil Back, who provides support in midfield and produces more running play as a result.

And of course Brian O'Driscoll was the outstanding back, with his blistering pace and ability to beat anyone on a sixpence.

Neil Jenkins
Neil Jenkins: The man with the golden boot
Scrum-half Peter Stringer stepped in and took his chances, but out-half Ronan O'Gara was still a wee bit off the pace.

I still think David Humphreys is Ireland's best fly-half and will be first choice for the Lions.

Wales' season was tainted by the eligibility scandal, and while they did well to recover from it, expectations are perhaps a little more realistic now.

The inaugural Six Nations has shown that as a competition it has no equal - nothing matches it.

The standard may not be as high as the Tri-Nations or perhaps even the Super 12, but for passion, patriotism, national pride - call it what you will - they can't compare.

Professionalism is important, no doubt. But the Six Nations will never lose that sparkle that it has always had that means Ireland can beat France in a one-off, or Scotland can do the same to England.

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See also:

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Wales triumph over fighting Irish
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