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On this Day in the Irish News: March 20 1999

Warren Gatland was aiming to prevent Ireland taking the Five Nations wooden spoon for the third year in-a-row in March 1999

From Orla Bannon in Edinburgh

IRELAND’S faltering Five Nations campaign so far has left them in an unenviable position ahead of their final match this afternoon.

If Warren Gatland’s ambition to finish third in the Five Nations table is to be realised, his team must beat Scotland at Murrayfield today – something that has not happened since 1985.

While further south England and France battle it out for the Championship, Ireland and Scotland will try to rise above the mediocrity of the other to glean some credibility from this year’s campaign.

Judging by the numbers streaming through every airport, harbour and train station in an attempt to reach the capital today, this match has assumed huge importance for both sides, especially the visitors.

Following three successive wooden spoons, third place for Ireland this season would be seen as a progression of sorts. But in World Cup year, it could have been so much better had the players believed in themselves a little more in the opening match against France and collected an unexpected two points.

A couple of streaky results has left them under pressure to deliver today. Gatland has never encountered Scotland before. He became coach when Brian Ashton resigned after the first game of last season, which was the agonizing 17-16 defeat to the Scots.

By now he has been well informed that games between the two Celtic cousins are normally close, highly physical contests and expects that today’s will be no different.

“We are expecting Scotland to really come at us and take us on up front, that is where the game will be won and lost,” he said.

“I was disappointed with the effort of our forwards against England and I am expecting a big improvement.

“On paper the two sides are very closely matched but the side which goes out and plays to the maximum for 80 minutes is the one who is going to win.”

MARTIN O’Neill believes a Leicester victory in tomorrow’s Worthington Cup final against Tottenham would prove his side are no one-hit wonders.

The Foxes won the competition in 1997, defeating Middlesbrough in a replay at Hillsborough, as the Midlanders showed themselves to be a force. But now Leicester manager O’Neill feels two successes in three seasons at the weekend would show the Filbert Street club are set for a long stay at the forefront of the English game.

“I think the second trip to Wembley is good news in itself but to win it is the be all and end all,” said O’Neill, who could have quit the Foxes for Leeds when current Spurs boss George Graham headed south in October.

“To win it would be fantastic for the football club and would prevent it from being talked about as a fluke two years ago.”

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