THE MEMORIES AREN’T exactly good ones when Paul Burke casts his mind back to making his Irish debut.
It was January 21, 1995 and a Five Nations opener against England at Lansdowne Road. Selected to start ahead of Eric Elwood, it should’ve been a moment to cherish for the then-Cork Constitution out-half. But in a dour clash, the guests claimed a comprehensive victory as Will Carling, Tony Underwood and Ben Clarke ran in tries.
Burke was restricted to just one penalty and Ireland to just eight points as Anthony Foley put a bit more respectability on the scoreline by barging over late on. In the end, it was a 12-point margin.
“I go onto YouTube and look at the games and think, ‘God, what a terrible game of rugby’”, Burke says.
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When Anthony Foley, God rest him, scored his try in the corner – it was literally the last play of the game. I had a conversion right from the touchline and because the referee blew up straight afterwards, no one saw where my ball actually landed. It went up in the air and blew back past the ’22. I remember my first cap for all the wrong reasons – rather than for the enjoyment of actually winning it”.
Two weeks later and there was more disappointment as Ireland went down 26-13 to Scotland in Murrayfield, despite being just a point behind at the break.
Burke was dropped for the next assignment with France as Elwood got his chance to impress. But in another dreary game (the visitors led 3-0 at half-time), Ireland were easily swept aside 25-7 at Lansdowne.
Still, Elwood was retained for the final game of the championship – a battle with Wales at Cardiff Arms Park. The losing side would suffer the ignominy of the Wooden Spoon and, understandably, that afternoon is Burke’s biggest memory from his debut campaign. After 20 minutes, Elwood went down with an injury after a clash with Richie Collins and Burke was summoned.
“In those days, the subs sat up in the stand in the Cardiff Arms Park”, Burke recalls.
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“And Lady Di was there – she was about 20 feet away. That’s how close we were to royalty! And when Eric went down, I got the call to come down the steps. And as I made my way, someone said to me – I can’t remember who it was – ‘You be careful going down those stairs’. I take the tracksuit off and I’m waiting to go on and Derek Bevan – who was a touch-judge that day – says to me, ‘Are you nervous?’ And I said, ‘Nah, I’m alright’. And he says, ‘Go and enjoy it, go and enjoy it’. And then I went on, kicked a drop-goal, kicked a couple of penalties and we won 16-12. Wales got the Wooden Spoon that year and we avoided it and then went onto the World Cup later that year. I really remember that day because it was a fantastic occasion. It was the first Five Nations game we won that year, the final day of the championship and for me, having started it and finished it, it was one to remember”.
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