By Kate Rowan
Any rugby fan will be used to the procedure as two packs get ready to scrumage of the referee’s call “crouch, touch, pause, engage”. This got me thinking about four matches over the past month; Leinster’s win against Edinburgh and Ireland’s first three Autumn internationals. It was as if each game was represented by one of the stages in forming a scrum.
Leinster versus Edinburgh
The first game; the crouch or the preparation was a gutsy Leinster narrowly defeating their bogey team Edinburgh. This did not just get me in the mood for the Autumn series to come but it allowed spectators to see some of the stars of future international games.
There may have been an absence of big name players called up on international duty but that by no means dampened the spirits of the D4fortress faithful on the eve of Halloween and the crowd created a great atmosphere that helped up and coming stars such as winger Andrew Conway and out half Ian Madigan shine alongside Leinster stalwarts such as Shane Horgan.
Leinster’s sole try scorer of the night 19 year old Conway had the look of a star in the making, coltishly running, his socks pulled down around electric blue boots.
After the match coach Joe Schmidt reminded us that it is still early days in the youngster’s career explaining, “he is an exciting raw talent but has some edges that need moulding.”
Laughter filled the room when Schmidt told the press the winger is “still 20” and then one journo chipped in “Conway is 19!” Schmidt chuckled “He is only 19, it is me that is getting older then!”
He is proud of the team mentality “we had some of the internationals involved tonight, Sexton was running water making sure his knowledge and experience was getting to Madigan, our squad ethos is all about helping each other out.”
Ireland versus South Africa
It was hoped that the Aviva’s first touch with international rugby would be a repeat of last year’s defeat of South Africa. Despite the anticipation this was not to be with the home side just falling two points short.
Both the conditions and the intensity were given as factors in the defeat. Brian O’Driscoll described the ball as being like “a bar of soap”.
I could not help but notice how the atmosphere shifted from relatively sombre to electric towards the end of the game. O’Driscoll explained this “the first 60 minutes were difficult for fans to watch but once we started playing a bit the crowd got behind us. It is our responsibility to get the crowd going.”
Journalists are just as keen to get involved in a scrum as any prop, lock, hooker, flanker or number eight. My first mixed zone experience was quite surreal, I suddenly found myself cast beneath the shadow of Munster lock Donnacha O’Callaghan and I had my chance to reach up a considerable distance with my dictaphone.
He had few airs and graces about him visibly disheartened by the loss “It is disappointing anytime you lose but we didn’t make them hurt enough.”
O’Callaghan was also the perfect man to comment on one of Ireland’s greatest difficulties against the Springboks; weak line outs “Rory (Best) said it was like he was looking at three or four Victor Matfields.”
The lock played tribute to fellow Munster man O’Gara on receiving his 100th cap. “ I have two Heineken Cup medals and a Grand Slam and that is on the hard work Rog.”
There were some giggles when O’Callaghan was asked on what he thought of the game over all “I’ll have to watch a video because I spent half of the game with my head between asses pushing and dragging!”
Towards the end of the interview his frustration at the loss was apparent again “it was our first game in the Aviva you want to make it a fortress and you feel embarrassed that you lose.”
Ireland versus Samoa
After a disappointing first outing in the Aviva would Ireland’s hope collapse like a dodgy scrum? With no disrespect to Samoa, Kidney and company would have time to regroup, take time to pause and use the game as a chance to change Ireland’s ways back to winning.
One of the hot topics was the inclusion in the starting team of six foot ten Devin Toner. The Leinster lock who plays his club rugby for Lansdowne was seen to many as being partly responsible in restoring strength to the Irish line outs and when was hoisted into the air by John Hayes was described as “being like the Eiffel Tower” by the ebullient George Hook.
He seemed rather relieved but was delighted with his first cap saying “It was just an amazing feeling to be coming out of the team hotel and see all the crowds and it was unbelievable singing the anthems.”
The atmosphere after a victory really contrasted with that of the week before. Trinity graduate Jamie Heaslip was in flying form bantering with the reporters over the moustache he had grown for the Movember charity campaign. He said he had been getting fashion “inspiration from Mad Men.”
It was interesting to compare the Kildare man’s delight and his attitude that he wouldn’t yet start to think about the clash with the All Blacks with Luke Fitzgerald. He was also bubbling with energy but was thinking more ahead about the All Blacks “you always have to take your game up a notch when you play against quality like them. New Zealand have been the best in the world, for I don’t know how long, everyone is really excited about the game next week.”
Ireland versus New Zealand
Fitzgerald was right, there was a fantastic excitement building-up to the game. This would the height of the engagement of the series.
There was something spiritual about the Haka, it seemed to be more than just a war dance and had the feel of a prayer.
The atmosphere improved as the Irish started to show the spark that had been eluding them. In the press box, the journalists tend to stay neutral and don’t show their emotions too often but I was not the only one who lost their composure when O’Driscoll scored the first try.
Things were looking good, however, it proved too much and the opposition showed their class winning by a flattering 20 points considering.
The buzz extended into the press conference with coach Graham Henry and captain Richie McCaw. The flanker looked relaxed as he ambled barefoot into the room. He had an aura of charisma that marked him out as a world-beater but neither came across as smug in their victory.
Henry remarked “about a year ago we were worried about the Irish but they have fallen into a bit of a gully but they gave us a tough game and they should take a lot from it.”
Ireland may not be have gotten the results they desire but hopefully they can build on a valiant effort against New Zealand. The players may now have the fireto pull out a special performance against Argentina in the final test.