Thursday, October 22, 2015

Ireland's World Cup 2015

To call me disappointed is an understatement! It was another ignominious exit from a World Cup which promised so much. We had perhaps the best coach we’ve ever had. We had the strongest squad in terms of depth and we were 6 Nations champions for the last two years. I was giddy with excitement as the competition drew near. Full of hope and expectation. We had a decent group with two Tier 2 Nations, a declining Italy and the worst French team / coach in history. Despite this we end the tournament in bitter disappointment. This is the most deflated I’ve ever been after a rugby game, losing to an electric Argentinian side. I blame myself (and my wife) really. I looked at all the group games in the pub and when I changed the routine to watch the game at home with my wife, who had not looked at any of the previous games for fear of jinxing the team.....disaster.

I have to be honest and say I had some concerns heading into the competition. I started to get a bit worried about our form during the warm up games. Specifically those against Wales and England where we produced subdued performances & found it hard to cope with the quick line speed of the oppositions defences. In addition we defended poorly and were exposed several times out wide especially in the English game. Our attack seemed very limited which for me was also a concern during the 6 Nations campaign. There was no way we could simply change the way we play & attack almost overnight. But we were told not to worry. Pundits, fellow bloggers and even ex-players all lined up to tell us that we were holding back a few plays and that there were a few rabbits in Joe’s hat. But the nagging doubts about our form in the back of my mind persisted.

The first two games of the competition against Canada & Romania went according to plan with good scores put on the board with the majority of the squad getting a decent run out. But even against these so called lesser nations (I hate the term Tier 2) we conceded too much space in wide channels. Argentina were obviously watching! It was the Italy game that really got my alarm bells ringing in what was a very flat performance reminiscent of some of the warm up games. Sure the great Sergio Parisse was back to galvanise the Italians but we should have been well capable of putting up a decent winning margin. We struggled against an aggressive Italian defence and who were asking far too many questions of our own defence and were it not for Peter O’Mahony's intervention the result could have been very different. I was really starting to get worried about our prospects after this game. Again talk of “holding things back” was being bandied about after this game. I wasn’t convinced and tweeted as much at the time.
The performance against the French was excellent. It was a convincing win against a team we had never beaten at a World Cup. But as we know it came at a hell of a price. Serious injuries to Paulie, oh how he was and will be missed, O’Mahony & Sexton was a terrible price to pay for the win. And then there was O’Brien’s moment of madness. Sure the odious Pape provoked but Seanie is experienced enough to know not to react. We pulled off a good win against a French team who never really threatened us and in truth are probably the worst French team ever to appear at a World Cup. The support crew like Madigan, Henry etc all delivered strong performances and we won convincingly in the end. Hurrah we avoided the All Blacks for the ‘easier draw’ against Argentina. In hindsight be careful what you wish for. Given the win and performance and despite the injuries we entered into the Quarter Final with cautious optimism.

The loss to Argentina was very hard to take. That first 15 minutes was car crash viewing. I couldn’t speak. They killed us with skill, pace and invention. We suffered a complete ‘systems failure’ with normally reliable players missing tackles all over the park. We were very flat that first 20 minutes. The players looked shell shocked, but credit to them for getting back into the game. When Murphy touched down at the start of the second half the dream was back on. I really thought we might do it at that stage. It made the loss all the harder to take. But then mistakes crept back into our game in that last 20 minutes and the momentum switched back to Argentina. Kicks were missed, balls were knocked on and we eventually capitulated to, it has to be said the superior team. It was devastating. Take nothing away from Argentina though, they were the better team overall. The benefit of playing in the Rugby Championship was in real evidence. We will never know the difference the injured & suspended players would have made. But they were such key players it’s hard not to think what might have been.

I’m a huge Joe Schmidt fan given all he has achieved for Leinster & Ireland. However for the first time ever I found myself really questioning some of his decisions in the aftermath of this game. Did he pick the right team for Argentina? Not surprisingly given his injury Healy looked off the pace for the whole competition.  Jack McGrath had been a strong presence in the 6 Nations and also when he played in the World Cup. Should he have started the QF instead of hoping that the old bulldozing Cian Healy would miraculously turn up? Should Fitzgerald have started at 13 with Earls on the wing? Should Ryan have played second row with Henderson dropping back to 6? Perhaps, but it didn’t matter we were out of another World Cup at the Quarter Final stage.

It was a World Cup we entered into with such high expectations and it ended ultimately in another painful failure. It’s still hard to take.

PS: In Joe I still trust.

Kevin O’Brien (@marywards) : Rugby mad Leinster man exiled in Connaught. Father of 3 with wife who hates sport but tolerates rugby.


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Taken by JLP from RDS press box on Nov 16, 2019