Last night’s episode of Wednesday Night Rugby on Off The Ball was a dispiriting affair. The outstanding sports show has the best interviewer in Irish sport – Eoin McDevitt – in the chair, and answering the questions was the genteel, insightful and always balanced Keith Wood. And, eh, Gerry Thornley.
Gerry’s performance hit a new low ebb last night. There had been flickers of his old self during the summer tour, but last night stamped out any dying embers. He appeared positively affronted when McDevitt put it to him that the IRFU should be looking at lining up replacements now, rather than leaving it to nine months time. He is only capable of seeing an upturn in Ireland’s fortunes, in spite of all evidence in front of him. When Brian O’Driscoll’s eye-opening quotation about not really knowing who’s in charge of Ireland’s attack was put to him, he simply ummed and aahed, leaving Keith Wood to point out that this was a proper criticism, indeed a shot across the bough.
Then the hand-picked, selective statistics came out. Ireland were top try scorers in the Six Nations! Our attack is fine! Yes, they were, but nine of the thirteen tries came in home games against Scotland and Italy. The more pertinent statistic is that Ireland won two out of five games and remain maddeningly inconsistent and reactive.
The lowest point came when Keith Wood suggested Ireland should bring in Joe Schmidt to offer a different voice and bring something new to Ireland’s attack. Thornley’s extraordinary response was that this would cut across Les Kiss. Apparently we should be more concerned about upsetting the ego of Ireland’s already overworked defence coach than getting the best possible coaches to work with. It’s hugely depressing that the leading rugby journalist in Ireland’s predominant rugby paper should be pussy-footing around the obvious issues like this. Nobody wants our journalists to become a ’head-on-a-plate’ raging mob, but asking the pertinent questions is the least we should expect.
WoC recalls a time when any Six Nations or Heineken Cup day began with reading Thornley’s previews in that day’s Times, be it on the couch or on the way to the ground. It’s a sad decline from a once great writer.