Ireland expects: Veterans must hold nerve to deliver Slam

Scotland 15 Ireland 22

By ALAN FRASER

Declan Kidney could take his Ireland squad to an underground bunker in the Arizona desert for the coming week and still fail to shield them from the weight of expectation which is going to be generated ahead of the Grand Slam decider.

That is what comes of having managed a clean sweep in the championship only once, way back in 1948.

Jamie Heaslip

In with a shout: Jamie Heaslip celebrates after scoring the only try for Ireland

Ireland worked itself into a frightful lather just six years ago when England went to Dublin with the whole caboodle up for grabs. And a fat lot of good it did them. A 42-6 pasting resulted in a choker's tag which, like a cast-iron yoke, hangs around the necks of at least half the side still wearing the green jersey.

But it is precisely those veterans of that and other disappointments who the country will look to for strength and composure when the going gets tough - as it inevitably will - against Wales in Cardiff on Saturday.

'Experience is the key,' declared Kidney.

'Wales had it in abundance when winning the Grand Slam last year.. England had it in abundance in getting to two successive World Cup finals. It was probably experience that got them there by and large, so you depend hugely on that.

'The real importance of it is dealing with what is happening on the pitch. You can have all the plans you like and something happens which requires a reaction.' There is also a significant role to be played in coping with off-field demands by those who have been there before, if not exactly done it or worn the T-shirt.

'It will be a massive game and massive occasion and hopefully we have the right players in the squad to cope with such pressure,' said scrum-half Peter Stringer.

Jamie Heaslip

Key moment: Jamie Heaslip gets past Chris Paterson of Scotland to score

'We found ourselves in a position we had never been in for a long time in 2003. This squad has come a long way since then. A lot of success with the provinces has been built on.'

Stringer, recalled against Scotland and creator of the only try for Jamie Heaslip at Murrayfield on Saturday, is the classic old head, not to mention a bald one.

Like most of this band, he made his debut in 2000, is now into his 30s and boasts an almost indecent collection of caps. Yet Stringer, with 88 appearances, lags behind Ronan O'Gara (91), Brian O'Driscoll (92) and John Hayes (93). Three others have amassed a half-century - David Wallace and Donncha O'Callaghan (both 54) and Paul O'Connell (61).

The seven are magnificent in their own way but World Cup failure, three Triple Crowns and, for the Munster men, three Heineken Cup finals amount to a record missing one crowning achievement.

You still get the feeling - although for heaven's sake don't use the word destiny, at least not in his company - that Ireland's success will depend very much on captain and inspiration O'Driscoll. It was his try-saving tackle on Phil Godman which prevented Scotland taking the healthy lead their first-half superiority had merited.

All through this campaign which became somewhat grinding following the delights of the opening match against France, he has relished the donkey work and placed the whole above the self.

Kidney talks a great deal about a 'centred team' rather than an 'individual centred team'. O'Driscoll epitomises that approach. Time enough for the Grand Slam to be secured and for BOD, as he is known in Ireland, to become GOD.

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