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Flashback: Ireland v England 2007

Updated: Friday, 08 Feb 2013 16:45 | Comments

A packed Hill 16 at Croke Park on 24 February 2007
A packed Hill 16 at Croke Park on 24 February 2007

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by Brendan Cole

Ireland v England at Croke Park in 2007 was unforgettable for anyone watching or lucky enough to be present.

WATCH: Ireland v England 2007 (Full match)

A riotous collision of histories and traditions, of emotion and sporting theatre, which will be remembered for an incredible prelude - and an Irish performance to match.

That history had been the subject of feverish discussion over the preceding week and the symbolism threatened to overshadow the match itself.

The story begins with the rather prosaic requirement for the creaking old stadium at Lansdowne Road to be brought into the 21st century.

Where would the Irish rugby and soccer teams play their matches while the old stadium was out of commission?

The obvious solution lay across town in Ballybough, but for a host of reasons, specifically the GAA’s Rule 42, but more broadly the complex web relationships between the various sporting codes on the island, and the people who played them.

Croke Park was eventually opened to rugby and soccer, but only after a bitter and divisive debate.

The stadium was the site of ‘Bloody Sunday’, where Tipperary captain Michael Hogan and 13 others were killed during an atrocity committed at a Dublin v Tipperary match in 1920.

The English team were well aware of the context; former Ireland international full-back Conor O’Shea was brought to give a talk on the historical importance of the occasion.

But despite all sides making the right moves in the run-up, there was nervous tension in the air. Ireland were also spurred by the fact they had given up their best ever shot at Grand Slam glory to a last-second try by Vincent Clerc weeks earlier.

How would the Irish crowd react to the English anthem? As ever, ‘God Save The Queen’ was also the national anthem for several members of the Irish squad and for many of the Ulster rugby people who had travelled for the match.

Across the city there was a quiet desperation for everything to go smoothly.

The crowd was in place well before the pre-match theatre.

The English anthem was played by the combined Army and Garda Number One bands and sung passionately and loudly by the English team and their support.

In an unconscious echo of 1973, when the English team was given five minutes of applause for coming to play in Dublin despite IRA threats, the anthem was applauded loudly and for a sustained period by the entire stadium.

Many of those applauding may have been determined to drown out any cat calling, but there was none. The Irish songs would have to be louder and more passionate.

On one of the last occasions when a large terrace was in place for an Ireland international, Amhrán Na bhFiann rocked Croke Park in a thunderous rendition that left all who heard it stunned. Ireland’s Call followed almost as an afterthought, and it was time for the match.

It has been said that it was not a vintage England side and Brian Ashton’s abilities as a coach were certainly on the wane at the time. But Jonny Wilkinson, Mike Tindall, Josh Lewsey, Martin Corry and Phil Vickery had all played on teams which had taken Ireland apart.

The Ireland line-up was the classic mix of Munster pack and Leinster backline with Peter Stringer and Ronan O’Gara, then in their pomp, fusing the two elements.

The southern province supplied six of the eight forwards, with only Simon Easterby and Rory Best hailing from outside Munster, while all of the outside backs were Leinster men with Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy in the centres and Girvan Dempsey, Denis Hickie and Shane Horgan the back three.

England actually got the first score, Wilkinson putting over a penalty but Ireland responded with three from O’Gara.

Ireland were prepared to run from deep, and seemed to constantly have overlaps in the opening 20 minutes.

With the score 9-3 after 30 minutes, an Easterby surge into the 22 forced Danny Grewcock into giving away a penalty on the English line. The subsequent yellow card and kick to touch put Ireland firmly in the driving seat for a match-shaping 10-minute spell before half-time.

After opting for the lineout, the Irish maul came within inches of the try before the ball squirted out the back. The ball flashed across the backline, a reverse flip by D’Arcy and a pinpoint pass off his left O’Driscoll put Dempsey over for a simple score. Again, England seemed incapable of defending the wide channels.

Magnus Lund’s chop down of a flying Dempsey when he was still three feet in the air riled up the crowd and the Irish players up again. That was soon followed by the English scrum being forced backwards onto its own tryline and into the concession of a scrum to Ireland.

The second try followed, David Wallace crashing through a couple of tacklers to put Ireland firmly in the ascendancy before half-time.

Ireland continued to dominate the scrum, and John Hayes led the drive to secure another penalty shortly after half-time but England were not quite done. Strettle raced in for a score in the corner and Wilkinson converted from the touchline and then added another routine penalty soon after to make it 26-13. Ireland replied with an O’Gara penalty but the game remained in the balance.

A breathless sequence in which Ireland could not break a firm English defensive line that kept rushing up at the outside centre channel to cut off Ireland’s width.

O’Driscoll almost got over with a typical flashing rush onto a Horgan offload. Another dominant Irish scrum set up O’Gara and Horgan to complete the highlight of the match, O’Gara’s cross kick collected over his head by the soaring winger in a move that many saw as echoing Gaelic Football.

A final pressured scrum by England allowed sub scrum-half Isaac Boss to intercept an ill-judged Shaun Perry pass and scamper in for a final try from just shy of half-way.

On a magical night in Dublin, it finished Ireland 43-13 England.

@BrendCole

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