Sunday, October 06, 2019

IRELAND-35 RUSSIA-0




I really would rather devote these writeups to my own opinion on the match in question but when there’s such a widespread narrative that I cannot comprehend I find it hard to leave out, so let me get that out of the way first. You won’t see me say I was entirely happy with Ireland’s performance in this piece, but as I said in the tweet, much of the general reaction seemed to have gone to the furthest extreme for no reason. I could put possible explanations for this into two categories… * Also as I say in the tweet, because of lingering resentment from the result against Japan. This is totally understandable, especially after just a 5-day turnaround, though I’d ask those with this as a reason to watch the 80 minutes again after a couple more days.
* Classic ‘I told you so’ syndrome. After over a decade following Irish rugby opinions online, there seems to be a significant amount of those who would actually prefer to be proven right predicting doom and gloom than wrong trying to be optimistic, the latter of which I would have thought was the dictionary definition of being a ‘supporter’. And unfortunately that second category can be broken down further when it comes to this particular match - as in the various reasons we all might as well pack our bags and go home now because we haven’t a hope of making the semifinals… * “Not enough players from my province in the team”, or as it could be called this year, the “Cooney/Marmion/Toner/Zebo” principle. These goggles, which only allow you to see players you identify with, are fine when you’re a dad watching your 8-year old’s match on a Sunday morning, but not for World Cup rugby. Sadly I doubt this viewpoint will ever disappear from the game. Some people just aren’t able to leave the provincial jerseys in the wardrobe at test time. It’s not so much that it annoys me, rather it makes me feel sorry for them because unless all 15 on the pitch are from their preferred part of the island, they will never be happy.
* “But Connacht put over 40 points on Russia in the warmups” I mean, what’s the point they’re trying to make - since that was but one of four provinces then Ireland should have won by 160? Oh, so that’s ridiculous? Fine, then what margin would you have preferred? Also, I watched that match and Russia were actually going for it with every attack, rather than kicking it away every time as they did in Kobe.
* “We should’ve won by more because we had 20 minutes with an extra man” - this might hold water if we hadn’t actually scored tries both times the Russians had someone on the naughty step.
* “I don’t care how bad the conditions were...” - don’t you love it when someone dismisses the best argument against their narrative out of hand before you’ve even had a chance to counter? That closed-roof stadium in Kobe made the atmosphere like soup, the ball like a bar of soap and the pitch like an ice rink. I’m not saying we couldn’t have done better, but you just can’t ignore the evidence of the humidity, difficulty of handling and the slippery surface which was there for all to see in this AND other matches at the same venue. Going into this match, I was more about the job than the performance. Five match points, sensible squad management. Maybe that’s just me, no worries there. But to deny that there were any positives from Ireland over the 80 minutes is to go out of your way to ignore plain facts as far as I’m concerned. Even though I’m writing this after Japan’s bonus point win over Samoa, I still believe we’re able to get out of the pool, I still believe we can win the pool, and yes, I still believe we can get past whatever monsters emerge from Pool B. Again, maybe that’s just me, no worries there. Let me lay out some of the positives as I see them - for the third match in a row, we put two tries on the board in the opening quarter with no reply. For the third match in a row, we put more tries on the board than our opposition, and over the three matches, we have conceded but one try. And for the third match in a row, we failed to retain possession on our own lineout throw no more than once. What say we start with the first point. Bundee Aki receives the kickoff, Luke McGrath puts up a quality box kick, Keith Earls, bats it back for us, and after shipping it wide Andrew Conway kicks one up the line forcing the Russians to clear to touch. It’s our first lineout, Tadhg Beirne wins it, then we roll through a phase or two before Jordi Murphy acts like he has been with the squad all along by knowing exactly when to ship an inside ball to Rob Kearney, who’s pace gets him all the way to the line despite two outside him. Then on 12m after another good box kick from Luke, although we don’t win possession back directly, the pressure is enough to force a Russian knockon and when Ireland retrieve, Sexton uses the advantage to stab a cheeky one through for Peter ‘jack of all rugby trades’ O’Mahony to run on to and get it down. Bish bash bosh, 14-0 after 14m. Of course that means we had to go on to win 80-0, right? Well, after we rolled through 18 more conventional Schmidtball phases towards the Russian line on our next good possession, another try looked inevitable, but things got a bit messy after a lineout/maul and Russia were able to clear. It was around this time that Jordi unfortunately went down injured to what looked like a shot in the ribs - terrible luck if so, hopefully he’ll be able to play some more at this World Cup, dreadful luck if not. Then there was a deliberate knockon by the Russian scrum half which could very easily have been called yellow as it denied Andrew Conway one of his trademark bursts up the wing, yet it was just called a penalty. Shortly afterwards, they shipped another couple of penalties, mostly for offside, which tempted Monsieur Garces to go to his pocket. Although we struggled a bit to retain possession from the scrum option we went for, Luke McGrath did very well to recover the situation and after a few phases we had re-established control enough for Rhys Ruddock, deservedly man of the match, to barge his way over the line. There were to be Irish tries on the day that were easier on the eye but what I liked about this one was our ability to recover and crack on even when the set play had to be shelved. One thing about the match that definitely did NOT look like Schmidtball was our inability to score either side of the break, and unfortunately it was a pair of knockons from the same player, namely Bundee Aki, that helped halt our progress both times. But the biggest difference between the two periods for us was at out half. Sexton was hauled ashore at the break, thankfully for tactical reasons. His replacement Jack Carty then was put out with a clear mission in mind - keep us moving forward with his territory kicking and pounce on any offloading opportunity that may present itself. Not a bad strategy, provided his kicking radar was online though it looked like the WiFi reception was poor. This difficulty advancing the ball, which to be fair wasn’t all down to Carty because this was around the time we contracted a pretty bad dose of knockonitis, meant time after time we were being denied getting into good scoring positions, and with the Russians doing rugby’s answer to ‘parking the bus’ by kicking it back to us practically every time they had it, we kept getting knocked back. On fifty minutes we had the game’s second referee’s decision that was possibly one rung lower than it could have been. The officials went through verbal gymnastics to find mitigation for sub lock Andrei Ostrikov who clocked John Ryan around the neck. Yes, the prop was low, but he was ALWAYS low; it’s not like he went from standing to a crouched position. Should have been red by the protocols IMO. Yet the call was for yellow and as his ten-minute spell in the bin continued and the crucial 4th try didn’t look forthcoming (in fact Russia had a chance to break their duck with a penalty kick which Gaisan put wide), I have to admit that I was starting to show some concern about the match. And if the scoreline had remained the same right up to the final whistle, it’s very possible I’d be all about the negativity myself with this writeup. Yet it didn’t remain the same. When Carty tried a little dink over the top at midfield it found grass as intended, got retrieved by Keith Earls, who ran into space and offloaded to Andrew Conway, who finished the job. Here is where the opinion of fans/supporters parted ways. Some of us were relieved that the maximum haul was achieved, others couldn’t let go of the worry that it wouldn’t be. The kicking game seemed to be shelved in favour of more offloading in the closing stages (also putting to shame those who predictably claimed we ‘had no plan B’), and despite the knockons continuing (at this point it was mostly, and uncharacteristically, Iain Henderson at fault) we eventually added a fifth try thanks to a decent combination between Carty, Larmour, Aki, Earls and finally Garry Ringrose, who by then was playing his 10,000th minute of test rugby in a week or something similarly ridiculous. As far as I’m concerned, there’s not much more that can be said about the match. It wasn’t our best performance, but given where we were both location- and morale-wise, it was a job done and if fans want to spend over a week completely abandoning all hope then they’re welcome to it. The result was a net positive for me and I can’t wait for kickoff against Manu Samoa next Saturday. Hopefully we'll have all recuperated enough to be standing shoulder to shoulder by then because there's still plenty of rugby left in this team yet. JLP


BELOW IS AN AUDIO VERSION OF THE ABOVE WRITEUP


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