Given my chosen headline and lead picture, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was going to be a post all about “that” lineout.
Well, it isn’t. Sure, if it hadn’t happened Ireland would have won on the scoreboard, but to the majority of “glass-half-empty” Irish fans who moaned when we won in Rome and Edinburgh, would that have been enough?
You can only point to the overall performance, and it has to be said that after Brian O’Driscoll’s try in the first few minutes the team played as though they had all sustained a blow to the noggin similar to Eoin Reddan’s.
And what is most frustrating is that the individual aspects of our game which needed fixing seem to have been sorted…the lineouts were statistically perfect, the penalty count remained in single digits and our total of 11 turnovers lost, while still high, was our lowest of the four matches in the tournament so far.
But therein lies the problem. Everyone involved in the Ireland setup seemed to think that dealing with those technical areas would bring results. And they didn’t. So now the focus needs to go on the overall selection and gameplan. But will it?
The amazing start we got didn’t matter a damn. It sure didn’t fill me with any confidence that’s for sure, I’ve been burned too many times this season. I’ve said it again and again…it’s 80 minutes of that kind of intensity we need, not two.
Gradually the match descended into a kicking competition and it was like we had gone through a timewarp back to 2009. The approach worked back then, but in Cardiff it made us look like we had no ideas, no inventiveness, no real ambition.
I could list the players from one to fifteen and evaluate their individual contributions but I don’t think it would do any good. The problem runs deeper.
It’s like our offensive strategy is simply “let the outhalf hoof it upfield and, sure, we’ll get a try somehow”. That’s not good enough for the Six Nations. It’s not good enough for this squad of players. And it certainly won’t be good enough in the World Cup.
So yes, as much as I’ve sought to defend him up to now, even I have to turn the spotlight on Declan Kidney. When he makes his selection for the England game is he willing to bring the changes to admit he’s gotten things wrong or will he take the easy option and blame it all on one botched officiating call?
Now although I don’t want to make this write-up all about the quick lineout, I must at least devote some space to it. What summed it up for me was the expression on Kaplan’s face when he questioned the touch judge about it. He asked “is it the correct ball?” and got a nod in reply to which he said “it is???” I think he was all set to at least check the TMO.* There’s a case to be made that a ref should back his fellow official when they make a definitive call like that – the touch judge couldn’t have been certain what had happened and clearly bottled it for fear of appearing indecisive.
And what of Mess(e)rs Rees and Phillips? Do we induct them into the Irish Sporting Hall of Shame to join Thierry Henry? Well, their body language, especially the scrum-half’s, after the touchdown seemed to suggest they thought it may have been called back. So let’s just say it falls short of Monsieur Vavavoom’s no-no and leave it at that, shall we?
Is there hope to be found when looking forward? There has to be. Sure…performances like the ones we’ve seen the past few weeks won’t get us anywhere in New Zealand (whereas before we were concerned about our Australian pool match, after Saturday it’s the Italy one we should be worried about!) but as long as we know the talent is there, we know there’s hope.
Call it clutching at straws all you want, but I’m reminded of how I felt when I took my seat in the Aviva Stadium for the first time back in October. Leinster had been positively awful for the previous month and were facing a Munster team on the rampage. And England may have four in the win column, but you could hardly call it a rampage. This is quite possibly the lowest collective standard seen in this famous tournament since it expanded to Six Nations back in 2000.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is that although I’d love nothing better than for us to prevent the chariots from swinging low next Saturday, I’ll be more interested to see how the Irish approach the game, from the selection, to the interviews, to the overall attitude. Not sure what I’d suggest for them to actually do, but say what you like about Marc Lièvremont, he had the right idea in my book coming out on the Sunday and saying in public who was going to get the chop. I know that’s nothing like Kidney’s style, but surely he can find a way to do something similar.
Otherwise we could find the World Cup passing us by in a much more orthodox fashion than Mike Phillips.
* = turns out you cant go to TMO for the lead up to a try, just the actual scoring of it.
Also this weekend…
I’d like to thank the rugby gods for this match, otherwise it would have been the most depressing Six Nations weekend EVER. The Italians deserved every bit of their victory and proved me wrong thinking they’d get nowhere without a decent 10. Masi was superb at full-back and the French just weren’t good enough. Whatever happens now Nick Mallett can point to this result as proof that he has taken Azurri rugby to the next level while in charge. The Scots will have their work cut out next week to get the win they need to dodge the dreaded spoon.
If there’s just the one yellow card handed out in a match, does that mean there was only the one serious offence? No. But it decided this one. Scotland deserved at least a draw out of this. England impressed in patches and but for two out-of-this-world try-saving tackles from Paterson may have won by more, but the fact remains that they only crossed the Scottish line at the very end of a spell of 15 v 14. Whatever about Ireland’s woes, Martin Johnson’s men wouldn’t want to take Sunday’s performance with them when they play outside their Twickenham comfort zone.