Love him or hate him, and I suspect with most Irish fans it's the latter, you just can't ignore RTE pundit George Hook.
I'm sure I'm not the only one who wonders what he's going to say after an Irish display – if it's good, you expect him to find fault, if it was poor like it was in New Plymouth, you have to wait for his over-the-top soundbite before you get on with the task of actually analysing what went on.
And sure enough straight after they cut to studio, Tom McGuirk teed up the infamous curmudgeon to deliver the line he had clearly been working on since half-time : “It's a sad day for Irish rugby”.
Right. Thanks George. We'll take it from here.
First of all, I want to dispel this hysteria about Ireland missing out on the bonus point. I know this is ironic given I moaned about Leinster not going for one on Friday night, but I have maths to back me up.
In a 22-round competition like the RaboDirectPRO12, a decent haul of bonus points can be like a couple of extra wins for you in the final reckoning. But in a pool where you just play the four matches, this is rarely the case, especially in World Cups – I already mentioned this in a piece I did about our order of fixtures in Pool C :
“There have been 25 round-robin pools altogether (in RWC history). Of those, 21 have finished with one team winning all their matches, the 2nd placed team losing one, the 3rd placed team losing 2 and so on to the bottom team which lost all their matches. And that number would be 22 if Japan and Canada not drawn 12-all in Bordeaux in 2007.”
In other words, since Australia beat Italy, the only way bonus points should come into play in this pool will be if we draw with either of those teams. And with rugby being a game where you need to play the percentages, you can't go desperately for bonus points on the off-chance of a draw happening in a later game.
So while there definitely was plenty to moan about in our display, I feel it's important we keep our criticism not only constructive, but also relevant, and in my opinion not getting a fourth try, indeed even not smashing the Americans to all oblivion on the scoreboard, doesn't count as either.
And another myth I'd like to dispel is this argument that the USA had so few professionals on the park. This wasn't a case of Stevenage Borough playing Manchester United in the FA Cup. Or at least if you must argue that it was, you must alter your analogy so that the Cup draw is made three years before the match is played AND an ex-United coach is at the helm at Stevenage.
That's right...it is almost THREE YEARS since Eddie O'Sullivan knew he'd be up against his former employers. And although I wasn't exactly his biggest fan especially when it comes to preparing for World Cups, I'd have been very surprised if his charges didn't put in a full-blooded display whatever the experience or ability, and that's exactly what they did, and full credit to them.
Now...having tried to walk back from Hooky's remark, I can now try and focus on what I really think is going wrong in the Irish camp. And I'll start by pinpointing what I feel was Kidney's biggest error in the August so-called “warm-ups” - selecting Paddy Wallace at 12 for the match in Bordeaux.
I know it seems like I have a complex about Wallace but my point is this – he was already tried there against Scotland and failed. We “only” had the four matches and D'Arcy always had to have some game time before he got on the plane. Therefore I feel someone else should have been tried at 12 when we played France first.
Since they weren't and Wallace again proved ineffective in the areas we need a 12 to be effective (as a case in point see Jamie Roberts' barn-storming display against the Springboks), we're now in a situation where D'Arcy has clearly lost his mojo and while there may be options who have played at their province as inside-centre, there's precious few viable test-level options left.
Basically, I can't see Kidney as having any choice but to let Gordon keep the 12 jumper and “hope for the best”. And that's not the kind of thing you want to be doing when you're facing an in-form Wallabies lineup.
Then of course you have the whole 9/10 combo scenario. Honestly, I can't say anymore about how little sense it makes to have non-provincial pairings play together, UNLESS, as I said after the England game, it's to give them time to gel in case they're forced to hook up through injury or what-not. The only way we'll know for sure it when we see Kidney's selection for next Saturday. Personally, I think he'd be mad not to go for Reddan and Sexton. But we'll have to wait and see.
Not that I'm saying Sexton had a good game, far from it. The only time he showed his true form was towards the end of the first half when he came to life and took charge of the move that led to Tommy Bowe's opening try.
But if you had to find excuses for our outhalf, you could point to the conditions. Cast your mind back to November 2010 when we were lucky to lose by just 2 points to the Springboks. Kidney admitted that day they made a mistake by going for an expansive game given the wet conditions, and it was clear that they were determined not to make the same mistake twice here.
As a result, more often than not when Sexton was passing it was to his inside channel. And with the pressure the American forwards were putting on us, even when it did get to Brian O'Driscoll his only viable option was to kick for territory.
So in other words, it seems like our two star outhalves are like “wet” and “dry” tyres in motor-racing. Unfortunately I'm not sure World Cup rules allow for a pit stop to switch 10s over if the weather happens to change on match day.
But you can't blame the weather for Sexton's poor kicking, that's for sure. He's from Ireland, for crying out loud! However, given O'Gara sent his first one wide plus the failures so far in this tournament by the likes of Wilkinson and Carter, it wouldn't be ludicrous to raise questions about the match ball.
As for Conor Murray, were it not his first full start for his country, I'd say his display would almost make you feel Tomás O'Leary had travelled with the squad anyway. But it WAS his first start, and he had some good carries going forward, with some average-at-best box kicks in the mix. He will improve, but shouldn't start against the Wallabies.
Finally on the negative front, unfortunately I must shine the spotlight on Shane Jennings. Invisible in the first half, he came into view for the wrong reason in the second – in the TV replay of a ruck situation where American forwards were allowed to come piling over an unprotected ball to force yet another turnover, Jenno's number 7 jumper is seen arriving way, way too late to deal with it.
Now, to the positives, of which there were several, and first and foremost there was Jamie Heaslip. Tackling, jackling, lineouts, carries, and most of all a masterclass at the back of our powerful scrum. Easily our best performer on the park, and doesn't seem to be getting anywhere near the praise he deserves.
Also there were the set-pieces. If you have to be cynical and say that they SHOULD have been perfect given the opposition then so be it. But given the aggression the Americans were showing at the breakdown I dare say they'd have been trying to rough us up at our scrums & lineouts and this just wasn't happening.
And you know what, I have a feeling Rory Best may have done enough to earn a start against the Wallabies – not just for his try, but for his mastery of the post-lineout mauls every time. That could be a crucial weapon next Saturday.
If you want to know more about my individual player assessments, you'll see them on my player ratings piece on The Rugby Blog.
Basically what I wanted to do with this writeup is acknowledge that Declan Kidney has a headache or two this week to contend with, while at the same time conveying my overall assertion that we should be happy with the win and, as I have been saying since the start of the Six Nations back in February, reserve final judgement on the coaching staff until full-time in Eden Park next Saturday.
And at least if things go wrong for us then, we'll get to watch Hooky try to extend the misery of his post-match quote further than he did Sunday. Might even be a task too big for The Great Windbag himself.
PS : Here's my 22 to face the Aussies: Kearney, Bowe, O'Driscoll, D'Arcy, Earls, Sexton, Reddan, Healy, Best, Ross, O'Callaghan, O'Connell, Ferris, O'Brien, Heaslip. Bench : Flannery, Court, Ryan, Leamy, Murray, O'Gara, Trimble.JLP