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News

Where to now?

by UAFC Editor on Tue Jun 26, 2012 1:46 pm
Rating:
  • 1 vote
(1 vote)


Our man Deckard on Ireland's tour

I had planned my opening contribution here to be a gentle rumination on the sport of rugby – but that has been overtaken by events, with ‘that’ result on Saturday, one which will scar the players and fans for a long while, and which, I believe, may well have ramifications for the Irish coaching ticket.

The Results
In all honesty, three away defeats to New Zealand is probably a par performance. Home advantage counts in rugby, and not many sides go away to New Zealand and win – France and South Africa were the last sides to manage it, in 2009. However, while the first result reflects a resounding defeat, and the second was actually relatively respectable, the 60-0 drubbing suffered on Saturday was shocking. Literally shocking. Defeats of that magnitude just don’t happen to big sides – and despite Ireland’s dispiriting slide in the international rankings, they remain a big side. It’s the kind of result that you see at the World Cup, being inflicted on Japan or Namibia – I can’t think of any recent precedent of quite such a heavy defeat being suffered by a major rugby nation.

The Performances
The first match was woeful from Ireland – they flattered to deceive for the first 15 minutes or so, but a naïve, passive and narrow defence proved no defence at all, and it was child’s play for New Zealand to breach time and again. It was distressing that they had to work so little for their points, with fast ball and unshowy alignments creating overlap after overlap. By contrast, when Ireland had the ball, they did little with it, rarely threatening the gain line, and turning ball over with monotonous regularity. Ireland’s lack of a proper attacking coach was once again very evident.

For the second match, it seemed that Les Kiss had been told to forget about moonlighting as attack coach, and get back to basics shoring up the defence. Ireland started well, applied pressure and got some points on the board, and then followed up with aggressive and physical defence, which forced a very high error count by New Zealand’s standards, and demonstrated that, good though they are, if you get in amongst them and maintain an organised and aggressive defence, they are not invulnerable. While there was some improvement in retention of the ball and attack play, as the game went on Ireland didn’t threaten much – however as the Irish scrum gained the ascendancy in the second half, Ireland were unlucky with Owen’s call at that crucial scrum, and can count themselves unlucky to end up on the wrong end of the scoreline at the end.

The much improved showing seemed to set Ireland up nicely for the final test – which makes the shambolic performance all the more difficult to bear. Ireland simply couldn’t get into the game, or lift themselves to react, the match was over as a contest within 15 minutes. It was the worst performance by an international side, allowing for the quality of player, that I have ever seen.

The Coaching Ticket
Few players came out of the first or third tests with their heads held high, but the problems brought to the surface during this tour go much deeper.

Starting with selections – there were a number of perplexing choices in the touring squad. For example, five centres were brought on tour, but just one inside centre, D’Arcy, who had been struggling with injury – while Wallace had just completed his best season for Ulster, including a fine performance in the HEC final. O’Callaghan and O’Gara, by contrast, had just ended a season with their form in free-fall – but both was on the plane, while the impressive Madigan went on holidays. Similarly Dave Kearney and Gilroy could be forgiven for wondering what more they would have needed to do to to secure selection ahead of Zebo.

If the squad selection indicated some muddled thinking on the part of the coaches, the selections for the three tests confirmed it. Zebo started on the wing, and despite a reasonable performance, was summarily dropped, not to be seen again. On the other wing, McFadden, despite looking profoundly uncomfortable away from his accustmed centre berth, started all three matches. When D’Arcy got injured, rather than turn to Earls (apparently first choice for the first test), or McFadden (a centre playing on the wing) – Wallace was suddenly called up from his beach holiday with his family, and before he had even got over his jetlag he was lining out against New Zealand in the third test, with predictable consequences!

And this is all before even mentioning the back row, where the underwhelming O’Mahony appears to be entrenched as the fourth choice, while Henry, one of the best-performing and most consistent Irish back rowers last season appears to be out of the picture. And when Ireland need some impetus off the bench, who do we look to? O’Gara on 55 minutes, every match, to the second. O’Callaghan. Meanwhile the front row is flogged, with unenforced changes rarely if ever taking place. Cronin, McCarthy, Cave, Marshall – they may as well not have been on the tour.

In terms of the tactics on display, the picture doesn’t get much better. Our defensive organisation seems to me to have clearly suffered since Kiss was asked to coordinate attack as well as do his day job. The second test showed what the team is capable of, but sadly this proved to be an aberration, book-ended by performances showing complete system breakdowns.

And into the bargain, Ireland’s attacking play shows no signs of benefiting from his involvement, with an ongoing paucity of ideas and lack of incision. Hard lines were few and far between, never mind line breaks, offloads even fewer. To the (modest) extent that fast ball was generated, it tended to be offset by sluggishness from Murray. The New Zealand defence is being lauded, rightly so, but in truth they were rarely offered a serious challenge, even in the second test. The Irish kicking game was generally poor, with balls rarely contested, resulting in straight turnovers of possession.

It is a real struggle to come up with positives.

What Next?
Where does it leave our coaches? They are contracted until the end of the next Six Nations, as a result of the ridiculous decision to extend contracts pre-World Cup. The IRFU doesn’t really do ‘dramatic’ – which no doubt is how they would view sacking Kidney. But is his role tenable?

It seems to me that, apart from anything, Kidney has lost respect. On messageboards like this, criticism of him and calls for his replacement have been mainstream for some time (with some posters more vocal than others!) And in the mainstream media, who tend to treat the Irish coach with kid gloves in order to keep the access to their source of information and occasional scoops open, increasingly stark questions are being posed – articles invoking Joe Schmidt for example have been two a penny since the end of the last Six Nations campaign. Worse, the match on Saturday was followed by tweets like ‘Kidney failure’ from Andrew Cotter – Irish rugby literally a laughing stock.

You can’t argue with results, and while Irish clubs have been dominant in Europe, winning five of the last seven Heineken Cups, the national side has been on a clear downward slope for the last three years. The way the tour to New Zealand unravelled on Saturday appeared dramatic, but in truth it simply underlines the loss of competitiveness under Kidney.

I find myself thinking that if England, South Africa or Australia had been on the end of a humiliating beating like that, the head coach would have been sacked before the final whistle has sounded. Kidney may be lucky that the IRFU don’t move that fast, but I can’t help but believe that the foundations of his tenure have been irreparably damaged by what happened on Saturday – my money is on a replacement, likely by a New Zealander, before the November test series.

 


 

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UAFC Editor has been a member since Thu May 03, 2012 8:02 am. He/She has posted a total of 18 News item(s) for a total of 27 post(s).

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Comments

bazzaj
Sun Jul 01, 2012 11:48 am

Irelands performances in recent years have been a hark back to the dark days of the late 80s and early 90s where we were consistantly abject with the odd, `give it a lash performance,` coming out of the blue. Our players ability in that era reflects this in representation for the Lions tours at the time. On the 1993 Lions tour only Galway and Popplewell were chosen to go and in the 1989 tour the Lions played the last 2 tests without an Irish man in the side. However if a Lions team was to be selected now most people would still pick over 10 Irish players to go and at least 5 of them to start the tests. We clearly have the players with the abilty and class now so what is the reason they are underperforming for Ireland? The coaching, pure and simple. Where to now? I think anyone with half a brain knows the answer to that one.


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Deckard
Mon Jul 02, 2012 10:11 pm

bazzaj - I actually have a bit of a fear for Irish players, when it comes to the Lions selection. Right now Ireland are playing at a level clearly below England and Wales - in spite of the fact that at club level, we have been routinely out-performing them! So unless we have an outstanding 6 nations campaign, or Gatland decides to be generous and take into account club performances, I'd say a lot of Irish players must be feeling pretty nervous about their prospects..


bazzaj
Tue Jul 03, 2012 10:49 am

Too true Deckard but the likes of Heaslip, Healey, Ferris, Best, POC, BOD, Bowe, Kearney, Sexton, SOB and Ryan will be hard for any coach to ignore.
Gatland is no mug and the one thing he can do is get the best out of players, creating an enviroment in which they are comfortable both on and off the field.
That is the clear difference between himself and DK.
I think the 2nd test against the ABs proved that we can play to world class level but we need someone capable at the helm of helping us produce that sort of performance on a regular basis.


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Snipe Watson
Wed Jul 04, 2012 9:58 am

It does depend on the size of the party they send, but right now the only Irish players I would be sure of making the trip are: Healey, Bowe, Ferris, Best, POC or Ryan, Kearney, Sexton and O'Brien.
Gatland is man enough to leave BOD at home and I think he will.


bazzaj
Sun Jul 08, 2012 11:25 am

Snipe Watson wrote:It does depend on the size of the party they send, but right now the only Irish players I would be sure of making the trip are: Healey, Bowe, Ferris, Best, POC or Ryan, Kearney, Sexton and O'Brien.
Gatland is man enough to leave BOD at home and I think he will.

No chance Snipe.


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