Sergeant Deccie’s Lonely Hearts Committee

We don’t normally do long and winding posts, but we have given some structure to a shared stream of conciousness that has been around for about 24 hours now. Lets see how it plays out…

Look at yourself first
Ok, so this is meant to be the piece where we castigate the management for another insipid Irish performance.  And it will be.  Oh yes.  But first we have to castigate ourselves.  We were overconfident.  We looked at the Welsh tight five and saw four first team names missing and fairly ordinary replacements.  We saw Roberts and Priestland only just back from injury.  We didn’t really rate Priestland anyway (turns out we were right on that one), but we saw the excellent (and huge) back 5 and figured, surely they won’t get enough good ball to figure?
But much more criminally, we dared to hope that all the talk of a new gameplan would come to fruition.  What fools!  Have we learned nothing!?  We also got suckered in to thinking that the provincial success would somehow feed into the Irish team.  And we call ourselves rugby nerds?  Lordy.  We weren’t taken for complete fools though – we expressed scepticism over the committee in charge of attack – but we hoped.  Boy do we feel foolish now.
What’s wrong with Ireland?
Just what is the matter with Ireland?  Why do they look so… average? For the last two years Ireland have been generally poor, only rising above the torpor on sporadic, often emotionally-driven occasions.  Is George Hook’s theory about the natural openside (get that Gick lad away from his textbooks and straight into the team, right George?) correct?  Are we picking the right halfbacks?  Is our backline too small?  Should Donncha have started?
Most of the above are neither here nor there.  In truth our problems look more deeply rooted – the mini centres do fine for Leinster, all four halves in the squad have played well this season and all three provinces have managed fine thanks very much without a fetcher at 7. And as for Donncha … well, we’ve been there.

There just doesn’t seem to be any plan of attack.  On Sunday we saw downtown kicking, Garryowens and box kicks repeatedly deployed.  This was in spite of a lot of talk beforehand of ball-in-hand attacking.  Sexton’s long kicking to the back three was frequently ordinary, but his Garryowens were pretty accurate, and Kearney and Bowe are highly effective chasers, but they still only give you at best a 50% chance of retaining possession.  Conor Murray is a fine kicker of the ball, but didn’t have his best day on Sunday, and there are entire countries where box kicking of turnover ball would see you dropped, no questions asked.


Jamie Heaslip and Andrew Trimble managed to get themselves going forward on the end of some good ball, but the barnstorming flankers of the HEC were anonymous, and Cian Healy barely touched the ball in the loose.

The sad thing is that attack seems to be something of an afterthought for Ireland.  Contrast with defence, where Les Kiss proved ahead of the rest of the world in innovating the choke tackle, as well as using line-shooters in 2009 to great effect.  Ireland’s defence has looked calculated, programmed and solid for most of the last three years – but not on Sunday [Should BOD have been sharing some of Kiss’s plaudits over the last 3 years?].
In attack the opposite has been the case.  The majority of the backline is provided by Leinster, where the players are familiar with working with Joe Schmidt, one of the best coaches of backs in the world and by all accounts highly demanding in terms of accuracy and execution.  From there they come into a system with no recognised attack coach, and where sloppiness (so much dropped ball) and comfort zones (you’re picked again anyway) are ingrained.  Since Gaffney departed, the role has been taken over by a four-man committee of the defence coach, the kicking coach, the video analyst, and Deccie himself.  It looks like Ireland play to choke tackle the life out of teams and hope to grind out enough points to finish just ahead on the scoreboard.  They rarely go out and take the game to teams.

Interestingly, Matty Williams has been banging the drum for a while that Gaffney actually had very litle influence on attack, while Kiss had Deccie’s ear. We assumed Matty was just standing up for his mate (which he was) but there appears to have been at least a grain of truth to his claims. Now that the Gaffney hook has been slung, it appears what Matt said was happening behind the scenes has been formalised.

Surely the small matter of attack requires a dedicated specialist? Either the IRFU and Deccie think the Committee is doing a good enough job that there was no need to source one, or they tried and failed to get an established name on board. The delay in hiring a team manager was apparently due to the difficulty of working with Deccie – interesting, and worrying. Was the job offered to someone who turned it down? And if so, why? Was it due to the ill-defined nature of Kiss’ role?  There was surely ample time to hire someone if they wanted to.

Do Ireland have The Mental?
For all that Ireland played poorly, they still should have won.  Six points up with five minutes on the clock is a position you should close out.  Leinster, Ulster or Munster would not have lost the match in those circumstances.  Ireland took the wrong decision to go for a penalty that was out of Sexton’s range, and were passive in the penultimate phase of play, where Wales marauded 60m up the pitch and won the match-winning penalty.  Compare with the mania with which Munster went through 50,000 phases to set up ROG’s drop goal against Northampton, or the way 14-man Leinster defended the line against Glasgow.  You just knew they’d hold out.  The same intensity just doesn’t seem to be there in the green shirt.
Is Kidney’s management working?
‘You can’t really give them a reason why they are out.  I remember telling one or two lads that.  I said “If I was to tell you a reason I’d be trying to justify my decision.”’
The above is a quotation from the grand slam book where Kidney described the process of telling players they’re left out.  Kidney, by his own admission, tries to give little away.  Donncha’s recent autobiography described how Kidney seeks to keep players on their toes, and often in the dark as to his thinking. It works for some players, doubtless, but the modern professional surely needs more than a slippery cute-hoorish platitude – he needs goals, boundaries and targets. It’s fine for Paulie, BOD and ROG, who probably don’t listen anyway, but how can Donnacha Ryan or Fergus McFadden expect to come in and wing it? How can they set themselves defined goals without any organisational feedback?
At Leinster, where over half the starting 15 play, Joe Schmidt is, according to various player interviews, very forthright with the players, telling them in detail why they haven’t got the nod and what they need to do to get picked.  The players, we understand, hugely appreciate his honesty.  You have to wonder if Deccie’s handling of the players, successful as it’s been in the past, is really getting the best out of the current group.

Where to next?

Well, Paris obviously, where Ireland have won twice since 1954. Even a performance of the calibre of those against England in the Aviva or Australia in Eden Park won’t suffice. Hell, even a performance like Leinster in last years HEC semi-final may not suffice. Changes-wise, one would expect Ryan to be rewarded for his painful cameo, and for Earls to slot back in. The thought of Wesley Fofana’s razor sharp mind and lightning feet in Earls’ channel off easy ball do not bear thinking about, but it’s going to happen.


But that’s by the by. What is really needed is a new broom, fresh thinking. The Ireland team are asleep at the wheel, firmly ensconced in the comfort zone. The kick in the behind should either come from Deccie at training, or Deccie at selection. After all, Deccie is CEO, and the buck stops with him. The players havea role to play here as well – they don’t show the type of urgency Wales do. Granted, there is no competition for places – does Tommy Bowe really think Dave Kearney will take his shirt? How about SOB – does he think he needs to give an extra 2% to fend off Padre O’Mahoney? We aren’t advocating either of these switches by the way, but there are a few players going through the motions, playing at levels that would not be acceptable at provincial level.


On the bright side, we haven’t felt as pessimistic since after the USA match, and we all know what happened next! Noooo!!! The hope! Its the hope that kills you!

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11 Comments

  1. One quick question gents, Sexton attempting the kick from his own half: (1) according to Madigan in today's paper, this is within Sexton's range & he practices from further out & gets them(2) If he misses (which obviously he did), then Wales have the 22 drop-out & in theory, we regain the ball (which is exactly what happened). So, we got a free chance at 3 points & were left with the ball, somewhere between the 22 & 10 metre lines. I'd take that every day of the week!

  2. I don't think that's too far off Fuzzy. I think once you go over 50m there's a bit of hit and hope for Sexton, so it's probably a low enough percentage kick. The only thing I'd say is 22 drop out possession tends not to be the cleanest – when you think how superior our lineout was, you'd have to say a lineout in the Welsh 22 would have been a great chance to look for the matchwinning score. On balance I don't think we made the right call, but as you say, it wasn't the losing of the game.

  3. I echo every sentiment in this piece. I hate to think I'm taking Irish success for granted or that I don't appreciate what Kidney did in winning the Grand Slam but I am sick to the teeth of getting my hopes up for a team who only play well when it "clicks." If it's constantly not "clicking" – and it is now a near constant problem – it's because their preparation methods are faulty.The brilliant Irish talent is underperforming at international level and it will only continue to get worse if the last two seasons are anything to judge by: We'll be hockeyed in France, will grind past Italy, probably grind past Italy and again look to rescue our season/paper over the cracks with a win over a sh_t English team. Then there's three (count 'em) tests against New Zealand at the end of an already really really long season.What if we lose to England? What if we lose to Scotland again? What if we only beat Italy this year (a frankly not inconceivable turn of events) – what then?

  4. Further to Fuzzy's point – Wales had 14 men and it was one of their second rows who was off. With nine and a half minutes left you win lineout ball in their twenty two and go through the phases that like we had just done for the first time in the day to engineer Bowe's try.It's good of Madigan to stick up for Sexton and give a different perspective but it was a bad decision plain and simple, as it was to kick for touch with an eminently more kickable penalty in the first three minutes. And surely it is O'Connell's call rather than Sexton's?

  5. Thanks lamonti – I had actually meant to include that Wales were down to 14 at the time but somehow forgot. You could go even further and add that Davies was their most powerful forward, and with him absent it would have been a great opportunity to catch and maul the lineout towards the tryline.

  6. Good post on the game and Irelands deeper problems. I’d like to add my 2 cents on the issues.Firstly the main difference between the provinces Heino form and Irelands is the intensity at which they attack the breakdown. All over Europe Leinster, Munster and Ulster have been winning plaudits for the way they manically counter ruck at the breakdown. Leading to quick ball for their backs and turnovers/slow ball when the opposition being the ball in. Irelands tactics at the breakdown were so strange on Sunday it was as if they weren’t bothered most of the time and quite frankly looked like their minds were on who was getting the first taxi to Coppers après match. Irelands first port of call should be racking up the ruck intensity by 500% and while we’re at it the defensive line speed by a similar %. Although as you say this wont fix Irelands long term issues. I think largely Ireland could be suffering from having too many leaders and dominant characters in the dressing room. Kidney by all accounts seems to encourage the players to speak up and have their input (witness Rob Kearney’s famous questioning of the Munster players commitment to the cause in ’09), however surely this could lead (and probably has led already) to too many ideas and thoughts being thrown around. I can imagine on the training pitch we would have Rosser talking scrummaging, POC talking line outs, Besty adding his opinion, Heaslip maybe throwing in a thought or two and Stephen Ferris arguing his point across. The opposite is probably happening in the backs without BOD. What could all this lead to? Confusion and sluggishness, what have Irelands main problems been for two years? I am probably putting 2+2 to equal 1200 but I think it is something worth thinking about. If we contrast Ireland to France/NZ, they both seem to have one focal point leading to the players possibly not over thinking things as Ireland may be doing. Ultimately I really cant see much improvement by Ireland until there is a radical overhaul of the coaching staff. Some, such as Kiss and Feek, have come out in credit recently but I think we need fresh voices in there, ideally one with no connections to any province (or journalist or Irish Theme Pub while we’re at it!)The final point I would make is about Kidneys use of the bench (again!). Although Best had a cracking game, Cronin could have added some freshness in the loose and he is a savage defender and a great ball carrier, POM could have added some ferocity and got in the Welsh faces at the breakdown, Redser could have added some quicker ball when Wales went down to 14 and Dave Kearney could have added some physicality in defence (and in fairness couldn’t have been worse than Tommy Bowe). All other teams are playing 22 man games and Deccy needs to catch up fast!

  7. Agree completely with your ruck comment JSRF. It was by not protecting our own ball that we lost that game. There were other issues out there – the one that glares at me – Murray box kicks were asking for North et al to run at us all day long. We need more than one player cleaning out when someone takes it into contact.

  8. @JSRF & Dan a thousand times yes. We'd be of the opinion that the breakdown is the area where most games are won and lost, and few HEC sides can cope with the Irish provinces at the ruck. When you think of games where the provinces have really performed (Leinster v Bath, Ulster v Leicester, Munster away to Saints), it's invariably because they've absolutely murdered the opposition at the breakdown. The ball pops out on a silver platter for the 9 who whips it out quick as you like to the 10, and away they go against a hastily set defence…Like Ireland, none of those teams have what you could call a genuine openside, but all have fantastic breakdown forwards. Cian Healy, Jamie Heaslip, Paul O'Connell, Peter O'Mahony and Stephen Ferris (to name but 5) are all ferocious and accurate breakdown operators. But on Sunday Wales just looked that bit more aggressive in clearing Irish forwards off the ball.An almost feral attitude will be required in Paris at the ruck area, because if France can generate quick ball…

  9. Very surprised to see you dismiss Priestland so readily. He created the first try with a sublime piece of skill, taking on two defenders and offloading beautifully for Jonathan Davies. He also called the set move for Jonathan Davies' second try and distributed for North to cause havoc. And for the third try he gave very quickly and crisply which meant that we were able to take advantage of our overlap. His passing is first class, and his tactical kicking was good if at times a bit errant. OK, so he's not a very good goalkicker, but he certainly outplayed Sexton in terms of getting his backline going.

  10. Hi woodster – maybe we came across as a bit too harsh there. We're not dismissing him, but the jury's still very much out. He certainly did some good stuff on the day. His line and hands for the first try were especially brilliant, and he contributed well to the telling 60m assault. But he's the very definition of a mixed bag. I thought his tactical kicking was all over the place and his goal-kicking was very poor. I'm still to be convinced he's more than a flash in the pan. He was unheralded before the RWC and seemed to go back to his old level in the HEC this year. We're watching him with interest though.

  11. That penalty should have been kicked down the line, we were far superior in the lineout. Wales avoided kickimg the ball out as much as possible to avoid lineouts. 57% stike rate isn't good enough for an International game.

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