THE TWO NATIONS
Of course I’m over the moon that Brian’ODriscoll’s 100th appearance in an Irish jersey resulted in an emphatic win for the home side , but I still have my reservations.
I’d even go as far to say I’m extremely worried about our chances in the 2011 World Cup based on what I saw over the weekend.
Now before you compare me to George Hook in that I’m looking for a cloud in every silver lining, let me review the match at Croker first, then I’ll explain.
Two first half penalties defined the contest in my book.
After 26 minutes, Jonathan Sexton recovered his own kick forward and Shane Williams was penalised by the finicky-yet-consistent referee for not releasing properly from his tackle.
Tomas O’Leary stood over the ball yet looked for all intents and purposes like he was waiting to give his outhalf a chance to go for the points. But all of a sudden he tapped and went and with the entire Irish XV ready for him, before the visitors knew what hit them, Keith Earls was crossing for the opening score.
Compare that with what happened after 33 minutes.
Rob Kearney took the ball into contact and this time it was the Irishman who was penalised for not releasing. Martyn Williams, skipper for the day, went straight for the ball and looked back at his teammates for the possibility of a quick tap and go himself.
Right there was your ball game in my opinion. Not a single red-clad player was bothered with playing on, even though it wasn’t even half time yet and they’d all had more than a fortnight’s turnaround since the French match. They just wanted to get the breather afforded by a run-of-the-mill kick for touch.
Well if you don’t want it, you don’t get it, and where else can you lay blame for this attitude but at Warren Gatland’s feet.
Perhaps it could be argued that Ireland’s two tries came when Lee Byrne was off the field, but to that I say, why WAS he off the field? Because our trademark excellent jackling forced him to turnover possession so he cynically thwarted our attempt to use the ball quickly ourselves, that’s why.
Now even though I’m a Leinster supporter I have no qualms about admitting that this Irish victory was mainly down to the efforts of our southern cousins. Although I see why O’Leary won man of the match, both David Wallace and Keith Earls could easily have won it themselves.
I’d even go as far to say that in recent weeks the Munster players have taken the whole “they play in red but not in green” accusations and turned them completely around.
As for Jonny10, well it sure wasn’t his day with the boot, was it? I feel that when he misses his first place kick, he carries it round with him the rest of the game, and this is something that can be easily worked on by Kidney & co. His distribution from the hand was still excellent throughout, and I honestly believe it would serve the Irish squad better to start him against Scotland to give him the opportunity to find his kicking mojo again.
Now…to address my World Cup concerns…and to do so, I must factor in the other two test results from the weekend.
Of course I’m as aware as any rugby fan about the tradition, the passion and the sheer significance of the Six Nations Championship on the world stage.
But we all know the William Webb Ellis trophy is the most important one of all, right?
I mean, whatever about how you perform in competition against European opposition, surely the true test comes when the three, scratch that, FOUR powerhouses from the southern hemisphere are involved as well.
And given that the Autumn Internationals are merely friendlies against squads at the end of their respective long hard seasons themselves, the fact remains we have but six competitive international test matches to play between now and our opening World Cup encounter with the USA in New Plymouth on the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
When I consider the performances of the six nations over the weekend just gone, I can only think one thing…
“Damn, I wish we could play France every week.”
Only then would we be ready for what the Carters, Matfields and Giteaus have to offer us in New Zealand.
Maybe the Italians can be forgiven in that they’ll only next year get an entire season of top level Magners League competition, but not so for the English, Scots and Welsh. They were all absolutely, positively AWFUL, and with their respective setups I can’t for the life of me see how they could possibly improve anytime soon.
It has to be said that this year, more than ever before, a Triple Crown victory will be a hollow one. Unless there’s considerable changes in attitude next week, I’ll be forced to dub this year’s tournament the Two Nations.
Sure, Ireland lost in Paris, but it was not due to a lack of cohesion on our part, rather one of execution, coupled with the rampant French display they’ve shown throughout the competition to date.
Whatever about the poor refereeing in Murrayfield Saturday, it had nothing to do with the galling mediocrity on both sides of the ball, and no matter how close either side got to their opponent’s try line, not once did I have any confidence that they would cross, and that had nothing to do with defensive capabilities either.
Trust me…I really DO hope the other four nations can step up close to the mark during the midweek turnaround, but I won’t hold my breath.