Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Saracens may have squeezed the life out of Leinster to win the European Champions Cup last week; it was a hard-earned well-deserved victory, after which players were quick to praise their coach Mark McCall – who happens to be an Ulsterman. This weekend three of the four clubs in the semi-finals of the Guinness Pro14 are Irish: Leinster (of course), Munster (of course) and Ulster. If Leinster have sufficiently recovered from their bruising encounter last week to beat Munster, then they will be favourites to retain this title, whether against Ulster or Glasgow. Though Ireland may have failed to retain the Six Nations title this year, nobody can doubt that Irish rugby is in good condition – remarkably good indeed, when you consider its history.
This was brought home to me this week by a fascinating TV documentary “Shoulder to Shoulder” presented by Brian O’Driscoll, already as at home before the cameras as he was when wearing the number 13 jersey for Ireland or Leinster. It covered rugby’s experience of the Troubles and featured interviews with players from the Sixties onwards, most, but not all, Ulstermen.
The Irish Rugby Football Union was formed in 1874 and Ireland played its first international against England at Kennington Oval the following year.