Subscriber OnlySix NationsLook Up

Six Nations: Ireland can’t beat England often enough or by enough. No mercy, lads

Only certainty is that this era of dominance will come to an end; it would be a shame if we became so used to beating England that the wins ceased to feel special

It was my nine-year-old’s birthday during the week. As you read this, she and her friends are literally bouncing off the walls — her party is at one of those warehouses packed with inflatables, where they run around snotting themselves like the Jackass lads. Nothing says a relaxing Saturday like taking responsibility for a load of nine-year-old girls and having their parents sign waivers before dropping them off.

Somewhere in the mix over the past few days, it was suggested that if everything goes smoothly and we manage to avoid the waiting room in Temple Street, we’ll get all the partying and snotting and cake-gorging done in time for the rugby this afternoon. Fair to say she wasn’t convinced this was strictly necessary.

“Who are we playing?’” she asked. “England,” she was told. “Pffft,” she replied. “Sure we always beat England.”

Ireland's Twickenham Test

Listen | 25:53

This, of course, is more obviously indicative of our bad parenting than any broken limbs at a birthday bash. You do your best for your kids. You try to protect them from the ills of the world. You figure they don’t need to hear the grim drone of the news or overly be exposed to the baleful realities of life. But once you’re hearing breezy declarations that we always beat England, you know you’ve provided too sheltered an existence.


This is not her fault. Of course, she thinks we always beat England. The last time we didn’t, she was five. It was November 2020 and we were deep in the gut of the pandemic at the time with far more pressing matters on our minds. She doesn’t remember rugby results from back then. Christ, Gerry Thornley would be hard-pushed to remember rugby results from back then.

It might only be three and a half years ago but it feels like a different century now. It was James Lowe’s second cap. It was Hugo Keenan’s fourth. Quinn Roux, CJ Stander and Chris Farrell all started. Billy Burns and Will Connors came off the bench. By the end of it, Andy Farrell had been in charge for seven games and had lost three of them. Does anyone remember any of this?

Ireland lost 18-7 in Twickenham that day, making it four defeats in a row at England’s hands. In a century-and-a-half of matches between the two countries, this was England’s fifth four-in-a-row. They have also had an eight-in-a-row, a seven-in-a-row, two sixes-in-a-row and a five-in-a-row. On Ireland’s side of the ledger? One five-in-a-row and four four-in-a-rows, including the current run.

By any measure you want to use, Ireland have spent far more of this relationship as the statue than as the pigeon. If it all goes to plan in Twickenham today, it will be the first five-in-row of victories over England that anyone under the age of 55 will remember. We have spent our whole lives getting ritually disembowelled by England and, worse, having to listen to braying red-trousered donkeys Swinging Low and Sweetly Charioting while it happened.

Well, enough! Enough of all that. These may be strange times on our little island. The DUP is trying its hand at hurling and Irish dancing. The new GAA president’s first port of call was Windsor Park. It’s a foregone conclusion that Irish trainers will wipe the floor with the home team at Cheltenham and nobody makes a big deal of it any more.

This is all proper, important, nourishing progress. It’s where we want to be as a people. Mature, forward-looking, willing to tear up the old shibboleths and write a new story for ourselves a quarter of the way through the new century. All that good stuff.

But some things are sacred too and we hold certain truths to be self-evident. Such as …

You can never beat England often enough. You can never beat England by enough. You can never take beating England for granted. You can never tire of, get bored by or become used to beating England. It must always be one of the highlights of the sporting year.

There can be no sympathy for an England rugby team when Ireland have a chance to beat them. There can be no half-measures or indifference. We can never, ever be watery about a victory over England. You can never wish for less than to crush them, to see them driven before you and to hear the lamentations of their women.

Irish people know this. Irish sports fans know better than anyone that nobody needs to apologise for enjoying a good hearty beat-down of the English rose. We know, most of all, that it is to be revelled in to its fullest extent now because the only certainty is that it can’t last.

Sport is a numbers game, at the back of it all. English rugby has more players, more people and more money than Irish rugby. The system here is in better shape than the system there at the current moment but we know how the world turns.

Eventually, someone in English rugby will scrub the inefficiencies from the game over there and England will come back and start beating Ireland again as a matter of course. We will go back to grabbing the odd win here and there. The natural order will be restored.

When that happens, it would be a damn shame if we found ourselves looking back at these days and wishing we had enjoyed it more. Or recalling it as a time when a win over England didn’t feel special. We owe it to our downtrodden future selves to take full pleasure in all of this.

No mercy, lads.