By Claire Glancy
ON 31st July 2010 a young Ulsterman scored the first try in a challenge match to mark the opening of the Aviva Stadium. Another reporter turned to me and said “Remember the name. You’ll need it for pub quizzes for years to come.”
If the same winger maintains the form displayed on his Ireland debut on Saturday, I don’t think many will forget his name in a hurry…
Is it any wonder Craig Gilroy so looked relaxed from the first whistle? His name is already etched into the history books at the Aviva Stadium and at 21-years-old, he’s fearless and confident enough to know he’s good. What’s changed is that everyone else knows it too. The secret is out.
As he danced his way through the Argentine defence for the first try, Gilroy ignited an excitement on and off the pitch. Within seconds of touching down he was swamped by team mates and every instance he got his hands on the ball after that the crowd erupted in anticipation, much like English and Welsh crowds, for Jason Robinson and Shane Williams in their pomp.
Kidney said afterwards that the young recruits had brought an infectious enthusiasm to the training camp. During his reign the Ireland Head Coach has been conservative in selection, erring on the side of caution, but injuries have forced a rethink across the park and on Saturday the new recruits repaid his faith, and then some.
From the first to final whistle there was higher tempo in the Irish attack. And it seemed, that when they attacked, they scored with seven tries in all. There seemed to be more vitality in every aspect of Ireland’s game and the youthful members of the side played with style.
Ireland deliberately switched play quickly down the blindside throughout the game allowing Gilroy, Simon Zebo and Tommy Bowe to cause problems at every stage. This tactic tore holes in the Puma’s defence and resulted in at least three of the tries.
Running at speed, creating space and attempting offloads to break down the usually watertight Argentine defence was impressive. The Pumas struggled to get two hands on Ireland’s back three and the previously frustrated Irish backs had time to show their attacking verve.
Jonathon Sexton enjoyed the time and space the lacklustre Puma defensive line-speed was offering. His passing was precise and slick and gave Zebo the opportunity to touch down for five points, but not before some fast footwork of his own led to Ireland’s second try.
It wasn’t all about the backs though as the Irish forwards played their part in making this a complete team performance – highlighted by Donnacha Ryan’s Man of the Match award. The Munster man who made his debut in the same fixture four years ago, only got his first start during this year’s 6 Nations but now seems to have established himself as Ireland’s premier lock.
Watching on Saturday it’s hard to believe how many regular starters Ireland were missing. This series started under tehe cloud of an ever-growing injury list: Brian O’Driscoll, Paul O’Connell, Stephen Ferris, Sean O’Brien, Rob Kearney and Rory Best were all absentees. Even the younger names there now seem like the old guard given the fresh faces in the starting XV. If their aches and pains aren’t keeping them awake at night then potential selection for the RBS 6 Nations certainly will.
Ireland fans have had to wait a long time for a performance like that. One morale-boosting victory does not define a season (especially when Ireland only managed three wins from 10) but it is a mighty fine way to end it. The players head back to their provinces buoyed by that display and excited at the prospect of the next training camp. As for Declan Kidney, he can relax… at least until February when Ireland kick off their RBS 6 Nations campaign at the Millennium Stadium.