Saturday, November 20, 2010

IRELAND-18 NEW ZEALAND-38

irenz1

BELIEF

We should expect no less from the Irish players than to be disappointed with their 20-point loss to the world’s number-one-ranked team.

But I expect no less from Irish fans than to be proud of their performance on the day.

How many different ways can I put this result in perspective?  Several, but I’ll go for two.

First, there’s the obvious one. The countries of Ireland & New Zealand are remarkably similar in terms of population, and remarkably different in terms of sporting participation.  Here, rugby must compete for talent with two GAA sports and soccer.  There, the only competition is for the black jersey.  Other codes need not apply for the best athletes.

Second, there’s our display when stacked up against the All Blacks’ recent outings against other nations:

  • The Springboks couldn’t beat them, and only scored 3 tries in 3 Tri-Nations encounters.
  • It took the Wallabies FOUR goes to beat them by 2 points.
  • It took England 53 minutes to cross their line when they were already 20-6 down (yes, they had TMO issues, but so did we)
  • Scotland, who have had some notable victories this year including one over us, got nowhere near their try line.

ferris irlnzGuess what…in the Aviva Stadium on Saturday, we crossed their line FIRST courtesy of Stephen Ferris (pic).  Nothing about them emptying their bench or winding down or whatever. We showed we can hurt them. 

I’m sure that when the boys look over the match this week in the DVD sessions they’ll see a lot of defensive errors from minutes 39 through 48 when the opposition ran four tries past us and effectively killed the game.  That’s their job, they’re professional rugby players.

But this amateur blogger isn’t going to nit-pick.  It has been a rotten weekend for Ireland politically and economically, and there’s no need for me to sour everyone’s Monday morning further with talk of missed tackles and poor marking.

I’d much rather focus on minutes 51 through 57, which gave us more than a fighting chance of turning it back into a contest.

  • 51:23 Jamie Heaslip intercepts on his own 22 and huffs and puffs towards the All Black tryline.  He knows he won’t make and at just the right moment with several providing support he chooses his skipper to punch a further hole and get into their 22.
  • 51:55 Penalty to Ireland. Kickable, but we’re going for the try.  Why? Because we firmly believe we can get one.
  • 52:55 Another penalty to Ireland, this time after an infringement by Richie McCaw.  Referee Marius Jonker had already warned him in the first half, but saw fit to issue a second warning.
  • 54:14 The moment that had me out of my chair screaming at the telly and my wife wondering if she’d soon need a defibrillator.  After more phases in and around their try line, a ruck formed.  When I say formed, I mean it had JUST BARELY formed.  McCaw brazenly dives in to the side of the ruck RIGHT in front of Jonker, who completely bottles it and awards the scrum to Ireland rather than the obvious penalty which HAD to include a yellow card.  To see a brief video clip of that moment, follow the link on this tweet.
  • 55:00 A phenomenal heave by the Irish pack earns another penalty, this time against the front row.  Do we take the easy points? Hell no, we go for another scrum.  Yet another heroic decision.
  • 56:30 Having been driven back after the scrum to the 22, we not only retained possession but we showed the confidence to fling it out wide. Kearney exploits a gap, tries to find Heaslip but he misses the ball altogether and who is there but Captain Fantastic himself to scoop it up one handed and burst through the goalline defenders to touch down.

Say what you like about our defence folks. That passage of play, coming as it did late in the third quarter, was a joy to watch.

Just to clarify, I’m not making this all about the referee.  He clearly left his cards back in South Africa and we dodged a few bullets ourselves on the day.

But who’s to say that if Jonker had a pair we wouldn’t have reduced the deficit even further against a McCaw-less 14 men for ten minutes?

As a final example of the dedication shown by the boys in green, you need only look at our injury count.  Fitzgerald, Kearney and Best (pic), ruled out for weeks. D’Arcy, O’Driscoll & Bowe, doubtful.  That’s the toll taken by ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTY tackles.  I seem to recall marvelling at making 99 in Twickenham back in February.

Whatever happens next weekend against Argentina, Declan Kidney’s men have shown against the top talent the sport has to offer that they can compete.  At full-time, I tweeted that I believed we could make the World Cup semifinals – some told me to “dream on” but several also agreed. 

The way I see it, we must give the squad leeway to develop their game between now and next September so we can send them down under with the belief their passion from Saturday evening at Lansdowne Road deserves.

PS : I deliberately haven’t mentioned the All Black outhalf by name because Tony Ward did enough of it on Saturday for everyone!  Quite the mancrush has he!

Click here for review of Leinster’s win Friday night.

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