Land of the Long Pallid Faces

We must admit that was one of the more enjoyable of the long list of Ireland defeats of the last 3 years. Ireland actually played reasonably well in patches, and they had a fresh feel; most of all, New Zealand are a joy to watch – despite being outplayed in the World Cup final, they are easily the best team in the world, and they show you just how far away from that level Ireland, and Irish rugby, truly is. The remainder of the series is likely to further illustrate the point, but this series has the potential to kick-start the Irish team again, assuming we have the ability to take something away from it.

Here are some specific talking points:

All Blacks Bloody New Zealand: Matty is right – to beat them, humanise them, don’t put them on a pedestal. But that’s only the starting point. As he said after Saturday’s game, Ireland’s selection, intensity, tactics, precision and performance were at unacceptable levels to compete with BNZ.

While it was great to see selection on form (in most positions), there remain some questions. The lack of a bigger picture strategy means that you don’t sense the Ireland squad know where they are going – are the newbies going to be ditched after a few games (see: 2010 tour), or will they play every minute thereafter (Rosser and SOB 2010-11)? Picking players out of position, like Ferg on the wing, might work in the Six Nations, but it will be exposed at this altitude – it doesn’t benefit anyone. Intensity was ok, but tactics and execution (precision) weren’t – Ireland appeared set up to play expansive football, but picked a scrum half who box kicked too much – what’s the point? On performance, this was probably a 7.5/10 effort from Ireland, and they lost by 32 points. That is a fair reflection of the 8th best team playing the best. If we pulled out a South Africa 2009 performance (our best under Deccie), we would probably still have lost by 15. We’re not at their level, but we won’t come close without clarity of purpose.

Ireland’s Tighthead Crisis ™: is not a crisis at all. Well, it should probably be described as a crisis of opportunity, not existence. Declan Fitzpatrick stepped into Mike Ross’s size 20s and produced a pretty creditable performance – the scrum was locked tight and he even put in a few tackles. Fitzpatrick has the classic shape for a tighthead – slim shoulders, barrel chest and athletic hips – and he finally realised some of his potential on Saturday.

Even if Ross if fit for the second test, it might be worth throwing Fitzpatrick back in, provided his hamstrings are 100% – it’s a position where we need depth, and he offers enough relative to Ross to not lose too much. Getting back to opportunity, if Ireland really want to develop more tightheads and give opportunities to the likes of Fitzpatrick in the future, perhaps the IRFU should think about implementing a rule to restrict foreign imports in key positions? What? Oh.

Key Pack Leaders: In the absence of Fez and Paul O’Connell, it was imperative that some of the other forwards stepped up and assumed leadership roles. And Donnacha Ryan did exactly that – he had a good aggressive game and was at least the second best lock on the field. Its amazing to think that Ryan is now a key man in the team, yet this was the very first test where he was indisputably one of the first choice locks (he deputised for an injured O’Connell in the 6N) – let’s hope we bring similarly talented players through quicker in the future – Ryan is nearly 29, and realistically only has one full RWC cycle in him.

Jamie Heaslip at 8 was among Ireland’s best players – he didn’t look out of his depth facing Kieran Read and adapted his game well to cover some of the weaknesses of those around him, but is still not at his best in attack.  Best, O’Brien and Healy also fought gamely.

Golden Dawn: It was a mixed day for those swept in by the new broom – Deccie Fitz did well and Keith Earls’ performance alongside BOD had plenty of positives – but now he’s out of the tour. In the debit column, Simon Zebo had a difficult day despite showing some spark in the first half. His role in Savea’s 3rd try looks worse with every viewing (Kearney’s contribution wasn’t much better), and his one handed-carrying style is predictable. Still, he survived, just about – in spite of our reservations, there is no point in dropping him now, let’s see what he learned next day out.

Dan Tuohy had a difficult day at the office – the step up was stark and he struggled for air. Again, he has bags of potential, let’s keep him in there, his career path has been upward sloping for the last 4 years, there is little benefit to be gained by turning back to Stakhanov.

Peter O’Mahony was shown up by Adam Thompson for his try – his weak left shoulder has long been highlighted, and unless he fixes it, he is not going to be international class, no matter how much Farrelly, Hook and their chums in the meeja want him to be.  He has much to commend him as a player, but test blindsides need to be men of granite who will take no backward step – think of Stephen Ferris or Dan Lydiate – and simply cannot have such an obvious tackling weakness. 

Darren Cave had a distastrous first taste of top class international rugby, ushering Smuddy in for the final try and any other referee would have binned him for the pull on Ben Smith. At the risk of sounding like a stuck record, we hope this isn’t it for him – he was trying too hard, and a more relaxed Cave (coming on for Earls, he looked like he had seen a ghost) the next day has to be better.

Ward/Campbell Elwood/Humphreys O’Gara/Humphreys Sexton/O’Gara: What is it about the Irish and tiresome stand-offs for the out-half shirt? Well, for all intents and purposes, the current one is over – Sexton has started 6 games in a row, and is coming off a season as the stand-out 10 in Europe. His rival, the great Ronan O’Gara, is 35 and is coming off his worst season to date –  for the first time, people in Munster are questioning his value to the side.

So why is he coming in with 25 minutes to go when Sexton had been doing ok? Why not bring in Eoin Reddan and let the Leinster halves unleash what they have been doing in Europe? We take nothing ROG has done for Ireland for granted, but he was never going to be able to make an impact in this sort of game.  We really hope its not the coach appeasing the bellicose Rog, and thinking it’s better to have him inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in. In O’Gara’s autobiography, he said himself how he never could fully settle and give 100% to Ireland while Eddie was hauling him off on the hour mark – Deccie should listen to him.

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  1. Giuseppe

     /  June 11, 2012

    I thought Earls was only set to miss the second test? Is he confirmed as out for the tour or are you just speculating? Hopefully we’ll see Cave start with BOD next week, maybe that’ll help him settle.

    Not a bad analysis lads. I think you’re being overly harsh on O’Mahony and not harsh enough on Heaslip though.

    Don’t know what Deccie was trying to achieve by bringing ROG on in the 2nd half. Didn’t make any sense at all.

    This looks like it’s going to be a development tour and if that’s the case then we’re as well sticking with Murray at nine rather then starting Reddan. (Marshall should be there as well but that’s another story). I’d even chance a back row with POM, SOB and Henry (mainly because I think Heaslip needs a boot in the hole).

    Overall there were positives from our lads but BNZ really are in a different class to us. COuld losing by less than 30 next week be seen as a positive?

    • @Giuseppe right you are on Earls – only ruled out of second test, for now at least. Jamie Heaslip made 15 tackles, missed none and carried for more metres than any other Irish forward. What he does these days may not be glamorous, and he is not in his best form, but the notion that he needs a ‘boot in the hole’ is far off the mark. His workrate is exemplary, even if he is not at his explosive best. Not sure O’Brien has the football skills to play 8, and besides, he’s flourishing at openside.

      POM is a player we like a lot, but we can’t help but feel he has been overhyped by certain sections of the media – good player, but a lot to work on. He has the talent to overcome his weaknesses, for sure.

      • Shielded blog bullshit

         /  June 16, 2012

        ‘Certain sections’ ????? You only read online media, fool, O’Mahony has been ‘hyped’ by everyone since he was in school, captained Irish 21s, and Munster at 21, if you doubt him, say it to his face and give your real name ‘Whiff’. Oh, that would mean leaving the house and Sky Plus….not to mention face-to-face courage

        • Ah yes – a nice balanced response. We thought POM was brilliant off then bench today fyi, but I suppose our opinion doesn’t count as much, so maybe he wasn’t that good after all!

    • Vijay Singh

       /  June 11, 2012

      Pec injuries are usually medium to long term…if there’s any tearing he’s gone for a long time. his tour is probably over

  2. HenryFitz

     /  June 11, 2012

    O’Mahony tackled the 8, who offloaded. Heaslip should have been there to tackle the 6, but was still driving in the scrum. Possibly a failure of communication from the scrumhalf, or the blindside. It’s also possible that Ireland assumed NZ would go for the pushover, as that’s what every team in the NH would have tried.

    After the game, I thought it was hard to look at any one player and say that he played badly. There were a few costly individual errors in the game, but these occurred when the outside backs were outnumbered. This lack of numbers was not new. It was a feature of the Welsh game in the 6N, and it points to a system error in the way Ireland reorganise their defence.

    Having said that, the response by all Irish teams to being outnumbered, excepting Ulster on occasion, is to come up a few steps and then attempt to drift across, hoping for opposition inaccuracy to allow the wider backs to drift out and cover the overlap. Against sides with the skill and accomplishment of NZ, that’s pretty close to suicide. At the very least, Ireland should be employing a shooter to pressurise one of the wider passers. Sides like South Africa tend to go for an all-out blitz when outnumbered, attempting to put as much pressure as possible on the inside ball-carriers and also allowing the cover defence to hare across to the touchline, as the attackers are likely to only look one way. If the opposition do succeed in getting the ball to the unmarked players, they will at least be behind the gainline, and there will be fractionally more time for the covering players to come across. Of course, there are vulnerabilities if the oppo are clever enough to have a deep-runner off an inside-shoulder as a secondary line of attack, but even NZ would struggle to have that kind of variation when they’ve got an overlap.

    • ferventreader

       /  June 11, 2012

      Nice analysis.
      Our outnumbered backs need to do a bit of shoulder charging/the tackles that litter and are lauded on rugbydump. Howlett and Nacewa are great at the smash and wind tackles that make the ball unplayable so our boys should know what to do.

    • Yep, good post HenryFitz. Wales are another side that use that ferociously hard-up blitz, outnumbered or otherwise, as we know to our cost. Ireland’s defence has been notably softer this season than in previous vintages. There were a lot of new faces and combinations in the backline on saturday, and our opponents were particularly good, but I wonder is Les Kiss being overworked what with filling in as attack coach too?

  3. Couldn’t comprehend why O’Gara was coming on. Maybe he doesn’t want Sexton to play 80 minutes of all three games, but it just made no sense. Agree with you about Cave, didn’t look comfortable at all. He was probably lucky to get away with his little tug on Smith. Still, I hope he gets another chance on Saturday with Earls out. Why not? He’ll learn so much from the experience. Same with Tuohy. It’s such a big step up as you say. Really looking forward to the second test, mainly because the All Blacks are so good to watch!

  4. ferventreader

     /  June 11, 2012

    “perhaps the IRFU should think about implementing a rule to restrict foreign imports in key positions? What? Oh.”

    Maybe our provincial coaches should be told to make some gentleman’s agreements with regard to starters and substitutions during the inter pros. All Irish front rows. Since the introduction of the play off system the Irish sides can afford to drop points and still contend for top 4.

  5. Cena2j

     /  June 11, 2012

    No sign of the celtic war dance I so brilliantly suggested on demented moles preview to this game ( probably shouldn’t have addressed my letter to:

    New Zealand (A Poor Man’s Australia)

    If he did get it I hope he understood my drawing of a load of blue nude stick men with swords and angry faces maybe he’ll use it in next weeks test if not I believe, that the balance shall tip in the favor of New Zealnd like big fat f*cking r*tarded fucking black girl on a see-saw opposite… a dwarf

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