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Monday, 22 October, 2001, 14:53 GMT 15:53 UK
Irish win relieves tedium
Ireland's Michael Galwey and captain Keith Wood celebrate victory over England
Ireland were tactically astute and deserved the win
By BBC Sport's Nigel Starmer-Smith

As some joker put it at the weekend, England just need to give the coach's job to a temporary replacement when they are playing for a Grand Slam.

Keep Clive Woodward for all the other matches, and all will be well!

I can't say I was surprised by Ireland's 20-14 win over England, and that 's not just a case of being wise after the event.

Nor would I have been had the Irish won this game when it was originally scheduled.

And it was much harder for England coming into Saturday's encounter after six months without a match.

The only recent result which I had not expected was Scotland's win against Ireland last month.

Then, for some reason, Warren Gatland opted to change a winning formula, before restoring it for Wales and then England.

Perceived arrogance

England's defeat was not, as some will say, a consequence of over-confidence.

Neither the players nor Woodward have any unreasonable expectation of success.

But many people outside England remark to me about a perceived arrogance in English administrative ranks.

Martin Corry of England battles for the ball with Ireland's Eric Miller
Ireland dominated the line-outs
Maybe that perception has something to do with sour grapes! Whatever, it's certainly not the fault of the players.

Francis Baron, the Chief Executive of the RFU said recently: "We all know where we are going."

That may apply to those who are trying to make the professional game viable.

Yet this defeat will have sounded another warning to those who link the game's well-being almost completely to the success of England's national team.

The reality is that the future of the sport depends on attracting the participation of the greatest-possible number of players at all levels and ages.

Not even a World Cup-winning England team is a guarantee of that.

Rugby is, or at least should aspire to be, rather more than just a business enterprise.

Tedious

It concerns me that an all-conquering England is seen as the sine qua non for the secure future of the game at large.

It could be argued that if England were to keep winning everything all the time, interest would be diminished, not enhanced.

How tedious it might become if the outcome of every game in the Six Nations involving England was a formality!

Dan Luger of Ireland is stopped by Brian O'Driscoll
Ireland's passion was evident again
England's losses to Scotland, Wales and Ireland in successive Grand Slam encounters surely serves to heighten anticipation of the 2002 Championship, and with it the game's popularity.

Is the frustration and disappointment for England a real setback for the game? I think not.

Which brings me back to Lansdowne Road; Ireland's triumph and England's merited defeat.

England suffered in the absence of world-class performers Lawrence Dallaglio and Martin Johnson, and perhaps Phil Vickery, too.

The line-outs, in Clive's words, were a disaster, throw-ins poor, plus there an excess of knock-ons, badly-directed kicks and poorly given passes.

England were below par, Ireland above it - and the clues to their success have been around all year.

Concentrated talent

Particularly those which point to the success of Ireland's provincial sides in European Cup and Celtic League rugby.

Ireland has gathered all its talent - bar Keith Wood and Kevin Maggs - into their own provincial squads.

What's more, there are no more than six non-Irish individuals amongst their 98 registered Heineken Cup provincial players.

They may have a small number to choose from, compared to England and France in particular, but they have concentrated that talent effectively.

It is that provincial structure which underpins the Irish team, provides continuity, familiarity and is invaluable for selection and building Irish spirit.

England once again learned all about what that means at Lansdowne Road.

Add that to a tactically astute performance and it's a pretty useful combination.

All credit to the Irish - for sure it owed nothing to luck!

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19 Oct 01 | Rugby Union
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