'Menopausal warthog' jibe draws Gatland from customary cover.' It is not the kind of headline one expects in one's Guardian of a Friday, not to mention any other day of the week. Still less does one expect to see the man from the Nenagh Guardian (no relation) referenced in the same paper. But Warren Gatland has been taking a bit of a kicking in the Irish press of late, he's not happy about it and a soupcon of rancour has been added to the day's cauldron.
This is welcome news. No international should be without such a soupcon, if only to get more people interested. And oldtimers had been complaining rugby has become bland and homogenised these past few years?
By the by. Just in case the estimable Mr Gatland is reading this and is minded to send the boys around if he doesn't like what he sees, your correspondent ran into two Welshmen in, strangely enough, an alehouse on Friday night who liked the manager, liked his style of rugby, reckoned he was doing a fine job, insisted Wales hadn't deserved to lose to England and France and added that the day the pieces finally fell into place was the day they'd blow their opponents away. Okay, Warren?
As it turns out, the opening exchanges are completely rancour-free. The oldtimers will be appalled. Wales give the impression not so much of menopausal warthogs as of sloths who've lost interest in their careers and really let themselves go. Midway through the first half Lee Byrne is sin-binned and the hosts take advantage to nip in for two tries, the second scored by Tomás O'Leary, the first created by the same player after he took a quick penalty of the kind so deplored by George Hook when O'Leary tried it in Paris a couple of weeks ago.
The proof of the quick penalty is in the consummation (as opposed to the consumption). "Sometimes they work and you score," muses Conor O'Shea, always a man for sensible contextualisation. "Sometimes they don't and you're given out about." Not that he's looking at George as he says this.
By half-time Ireland lead 16-6 in spite of three misses by Jonathan Sexton. But the panel's analysis comes with a government health warning: Wales have previous when it comes to good second halves recently and Ireland aren't home and hosed. George: "The lady with excess avoirdupois isn't singing yet." Tom McGurk: "Wha'?" George, in an outburst of political correctness that frankly doesn't suit him one little bit: "You can't call her the fat lady any more."
He's being unduly cautious, it transpires. In the 59th minute, Man-of-the-Match O'Leary sets up Keith Earls for his second try and the rotund one – yer woman, not George – can be heard to screech. Sexton closes things out with a late drop-goal and Ireland have the most comfortable and undemonstrative of victories. "Sometimes you look to see what the difference was," Ryle Nugent theorises, taking a leaf out of Conor's philosophical-contextualisation manual, "sometimes you just say that the better team won."
For once the panel don't want to be seen to carp. No, it wasn't a vintage Ireland display, Brent Pope concedes, before deciding to agree with Conor's verdict: "a good, good performance". More contextualisation ahoy: Ireland are now fighting to break into the exclusive quartet at the top of world rugby, Conor adds. "We're mezzanine, George," Tom interjects helpfully. "We are," George replies. "Em, what does mezzanine mean?"
And a warning for the menopausal warthog. "Warren Gatland says he's not under pressure but he has to be," Conor asserts. One wonders what the two Welshmen from Friday night have to say about him now that this wasn't the day the pieces finally fell into place. It shouldn't be too hard to find them, mind you; they weren't actually heading to Croke Park, instead being more interested in enquiring as to the whereabouts of another alehouse with a big screen wherein they could watch proceedings without having to go to the trouble of attending them.
Menopausal warthogs. Mezzanines. Ladies with excess avoirdupois. George Hook. Excellent subjects for philosophical contextualisation over pints in alehouses with big screens.