Irelandwatch: Things Are Grim, But It’s Not 2007 Yet

As the final whistle went at Lansdowne Road, the only positive to take from the game was that there were none left until the real business begins.  No more opportunities to get injured, no need to endure another 80 punishing minutes of lateral passing and one-out runners.  It’s been a grim series for Ireland, with injuries now beginning to pile-up and confidence shattered.  They have been outmuscled upfront, and dull in attack.  Wally and Felix Jones have been lost to injury, while BOD, O’Brien, Kearney, Heaslip and Healy will travel injured.

The question now being posed is, Are we in a worse position than in 2007?  Then Ireland travelled with little confidence after a similarly poor showing in the warm-up games, but at least everyone was fit (and buff!).  Factor in a daft new contract handed out to management, and you begin to get a sense of deja vu.  The answer, though, is a straight ‘no’.  Yes, we are playing badly.  Yes, the warm up series looks misguided now.  No, we won’t beat Australia.  No, we certainly won’t make it beyond a quarter-final.  But a horror show of 2007 proportions is still a long shot.

Four years ago, each player knew which half of the squad they were in: the untouchables or the tackle-bag-holders.  For all Kidney’s flaws of selection and tactics, he has created a little competition for places.  By leaving O’Leary and Fitzgerald at home, he has served notice that nobody is untouchable.  Yes, he looks to have curious soft spots for the likes of Leamy and O’Callaghan, but it’s not quite a two tier squad.

Life in camp can hardly be worse this time around.  In 2007, the players hated the trips to Spala, hated their soulless Bordeaux hotel, hated the food they got served, hated the long training sessions that were a substitute for games, and a deep malaise set in.  This time around, the hip student town of Queenstown beckons, training will be very light, and the players are currently buying presents for each other.  How lovely!  Everyone in the squad is great friends!  What a shame they’re playing like drains.

Finally, and most importantly, Ireland’s draw is nowhere near as arduous.  In 2007, Ireland were pitted against France in Paris, usually a banker, and a superb Argentina side, which turned up with an almost feral desire to stick one on the old boys club that is the established nations.  When Argentina won the opening encounter against France, it was the worst possible outcome for Ireland, as it effectively left us needing to beat Argentina by four tries.  This time we can be confident Australia will trounce all-comers, leaving us in a straight shootout with Italy – beaten comfortably by Scotland last weekend – to qualify. 

So, it’s good news!  Ireland can play rubbish and still get out with at least their dignity intact, by winning just one out of three games against established opposition.  It’ll be very disappointing, and we know this squad is capable of better, but it’s one notch above abject humiliation.

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7 Comments

  1. Still trying to get over the depression of watching Ireland stumble through another game of rugby. The players just don’t seem to be enjoying themselves. We still haven’t seen that there is a definitive game plan. Although England are limited at least they have a plan of how they are going to play for 80 minutes. Were there any positives on Saturday? The scrum looked good an area we should have total domination over the Australians, POC looks in good touch, Ferris lasted 80 minutes. There are probably too many negatives to list the major one being David Wallace. Absolutely gutted for Wallace cant really see him coming back from something like this to be honest. Minor ones being Heaslip and Healys knocks. Losing Heaslip and Wallace left us with one ball carrier in the pack, I would rather have seen Dominic Ryan and Rhys Ruddock come on than Donnacha Ryan and Leamy who ever seemed to make any yards. Also some mutterings of Tom Croft making contact with Healys eye leading to his injury, Healy however isn’t helped by Kidney leaving him on far too long after he was clearly injured. We seem to have a massive problem at 12 now and I would now say (and I can not believe that I am about to write this) we probably need Paddy Wallace in the 12 jersey to give us some creativity, D'Arcy just hasn’t looked comfortable all series. None of our half backs seem to be intent on making a statement and claiming a jersey. Sexton and ROG both look like they are almost going through the motions and neither has really hit anywhere near top form to claim the 10 jersey. The scrumhalfs in the squad are mixing the good with the bad. After watching the Aussies on Saturday morning I couldn’t help think what shape we would be in if the IRFU had moved decisively after the 2007 debacle and appointed Robbie Deans. The most frustrating aspect is that the management just can not seem to get any performance out of the players. I fear Kidney, Gaffey, Smal et al could have blown a golden opportunity for Ireland to reach the latter stages of the competition. However I will say that the South Africans were abysmal in the lead up to the 2007 World Cup, as were the English but both managed to turn it around and produce results in the tournament. Tough to see where a turn around could come for Ireland but something needs to be changed and quickly.

  2. Hi JSRF – a lengthy, one-paragraph cry of despair there! There's so many areas of concern it's hard to know where to start. D'arcy's a streak player, and when he's off form he's ineffectual – and he is really off form right now. Jonny and ROG have been ordinary at best. Even consistently good players like Heaslip and Bowe were ineffectual. But I've two fundamental concerns that go beyond personnel:1. Power – we are simply underpowered in the tight. We lack a big, bruising 2nd row who can provide the pack with its engine (see Hines at Leinster, Thorne for NZ, Nallet for France etc.) Donncha is just too lightweight at test level but their isn't an obvious candidate to replace him (Cullen doesn't fit the mould either).2. Attack. Everyone is hoping our back play will suddenly light up once the tourney begins, but it won't. Passing across a flat backline from wing to wing is Gaffney's style. Remember Leinster in 2009 & 2010 – in 2010 they had the lowest try count in the ML, despite having terrific players in every position from 9 to 15. Their backs coach? Alan Gaffney.Like I say, the saving grace is that our group is navigable. Italy will fancy their chances but they tend not to do well ouside the Flaminio.

  3. Watched the entire Ireland game back on TV last night after being in Lansdowne for the second disappointing Saturday in a row. Horrific looking at Wallace in such distress on the sideline thumping the ground, he knew straight away.Ferris and Healy had good games as I thought at the match, Murphy and Trimble were pretty good. Flannery was decent but not back to his old self yet hopefully that'll come with another game. Bowe and D'Arcy were really struggling to get into the game which is worrying. Earls wasn't quite as bad in the all round game as I thought on Saturday but he was badly at fault for the Tuilagi try, it's such a tough position to defend in we don't know how lucky we are to have O'Driscoll there until he's out. For those two ridiculous decisions in the first half to kick penalties to touch instead of at goal it looked like ROG really wanted to go for touch and O'Connell just let him at it, they didn't seem to discuss it on either occasion, that's doubly worrying – first it was a wrong decision from ROG which set the wrong tone for the entire match (maybe born out of feeling under such pressure from Sexton to look aggressive) plus O'Connell should have slapped him up side the head and told him to cop on but didn't.Wallace had an op already yesterday morning so hopefully he can get back at it and have a great season for Munster. A small silver lining might be that this will force Kidney to play SOB at 7 and Ferris at 6 which you could argue could possibly be our best combination anyways but the problem is if either of them gets injured or has to come off during the game we don't have a truly world class replacement anymore for the back row. Agree with the previous poster that we would be better equipped for this tournament with Dominic Ryan and Ruddock instead of Leamy and Donnacha Ryan.I still think we'll get a 'real' performance out of Ireland v Australia but whether that'll be enough to win that game is another question. On the upside we certainly haven't shown off what we're capable of to Australia and we still haven't played our first choice 9 and 10 (defo Reddan and Johnny for me) together at all in the matches so far nor have we ever had more than about 11 of the first choice team on the pitch together at any one time. Hopefully v Aus we can field Healy, Flannery, Ross, POC, DOC, Fez, Heaslip, SOB, Reddan, J10, Trimble, D'Arcy or McFadden, BOD, Bowe and Kearney. 12 is the only position I think that is still up for debate in my mind, we'll have to wait till after USA but at this juncture I suspect D'Arcy will not deserve a place v Aus ahead of McFadden or even Wallace.

  4. Hi czarak – you must have some constitution. I was there on saturday myself, but I must confess I broke with my usual sunday morning re-watching of the game, because I just couldn't face sitting through it again.Good point on the decision-making. POC has a history of this – in 2007 he tried these 'authority-asserting' decisions for Munster, frequently declining to go for the sticks. It backfired against Leicester at TP when he turned down a gimme under the posts for a scrum and Munster got shoved off their own ball, eventually losing the game. You only turn down three points if you are a) well behind on the scoreboard, b) have the opposition under real pressure and want to turn the screw, or c) you don't have a reliable placekicker.None of these was the case on saturday. The first such penalty was in Ireland's first notable attack, in the first quarter of the game. England had barely had to make a tackle. The only decision was to take the points and get on the scoreboard. Of course, a cheer went up as soon as ROG signalled he was going down the line, but rest assured I took one look at Ms Ovale and said 'this is a poor decision'.

  5. OK lads, some of this is joking (i'll let you decide which bits), but here goes: firstly by my perverse reckoning we are right where we want to be – lodged firmly in the long grass. I've said it before and do so again, it is when we are staring into this kind of abyss that the Irish rugby team suddenly and from somewhere previously unseen can reassert your faith in the green geansai. I have learned to set the clock by the peaks and troughs of this particular performance graph. By playing England and France pressure has been put on (deliberately by Kidney) and it is clear we have not yet delivered. Where are we now? well, we are the soccer team who finishes 6th in the championship going into the playoffs, the gaelic team written off after a poor national league. It is a mindset we are eminently more comfortable with than the 2007 version. Deccie has sought this out and t'wil be remembered as cute hoorism of the highest order.Secondly one person is to blame for 2007 and thankfully we won't see him this time. He is on the other team. That's right – Matt Cooper. The insidious negativity of this man on today fm has brought down not only the Irish, but the European and American economies, coinciding with the rise of China. Then in 2007 he used the guise of TV3 coverage to destroy the Irish team. His motive? I have no longer any doubt that he is the political wing of the militant people who wear those Republic of Cork T-shirts. I suspect that very soon we will embrace communism and Cork will be the seat of power in the country. You may say this is fanciful, but look at the Arab spring and remember the grand slam came under the watch of George Hook, who is a vibrant rainbow of positivity by comparison.Thirdly, of the top class players who we posess (1,3,5,6,7,8,13,14) David Wallace is perhaps the only one who is replaceable by equal class without changing the way the team plays too much and may actually improve the bench options. If we were to lose Healy for example, it would be cataclysmic. O'Brien will replace DW directly as a ball carrying 7, Ferris will (hopefully) be fit enough to play 6 and will be a useful lineout option. It must be said though commiserations to the magnificent and heroic Wallace. I hope he soldiers on in the green and still will have much to offer. Jennings becomes the bench option as a plan B. There are those who say O'Brien can't play 7, but don't forget David Wallace was really a versatile 8. So too is SOB.Finally the first choice team is now taking shape. You are quite correct that neither Cullen or DOC are in the Bakkies Botha mould, so I would go for Cullen's significantly more brains over DOC's slightly more brawn (though despite the defeats DOC has improved his form commendably of late). I don't think we have any other option now than to pick Boss for Australia, though I'm not a fan. Reddan would come on. It wouldn't be fair on Murray with the little time he has had at this level. O'Gara should start at 10 to give more structure to our game initially (he will take the posts come world cup), with sexton to come on with Reddan at around 60 mins. Inside centre is a quagmire. The Sexton at 12 thing has only confused it further. We ridicule the English midfield, but would we like to have a Riki Flutey now? I am leaning towards McFadden on the basis that you couldn't play O'Gara and Wallace together. D'Arcy is a good player who has had a dreadful 6 nations and is currently in worse form than Tomas O'Leary was.Irrespective I genuinely continue to have total faith in the Irish rugby team and management. They will come good. This bit truthfully is not joking, thought right now I accept you may be more inclined to believe the Matt Cooper thing.

  6. On reflection I retract that about Darce, the management have backed him through a rough spell which is fair enough. We will need him and he is a vital player, its just it is crucial he steps up to the plate now. In general now is the time for this great group of players. Since 07 they have written their names into our history and how they will be remembered is not dependant on this world cup. That is a huge difference from 4 years ago. The grand slams and European cups have established their legacy and it is untouchable within Ireland or Europe. I do think though the Southern hemisphere still are dismissive of these achievements, god almighty it would be a great thing to shake that up.

  7. And into the bargain, JSRF no-way would I take Deans over Kidney. The guy has been an incredible ambassador through victories and defeats. I have criticised him on here myself for things I don't agree with and he ain't infallible, but I absolutely think we couldn't have a better man and I for one would go to the line for him.

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