Back Up The Truck

We didn’t see that one coming – an intense and physical performance that could (should?) have given Ireland their first win over BNZ since forever. Although, with 20-20 hindsight, it’s clear the occasion was symptomatic of two regular occurrences that perhaps should have been closer to the fore of our minds.  The first is Ireland’s ability to deliver occasional, one-off outstanding performances, seemingly out of nowhere and usually when at their lowest ebb and after a bout of soul searching.  The second is New Zealand’s tendency to do a wobbly on big occasions (ref. France 1999, 2007, 2011).  All week long we could only see the significance of the first game in Christchurch since the earthquake as being a catalyst to them unleashing all hell on Ireland – for some reason it never occurred to us that the emotion of the occasion might get to them.  And it certainly did.

We’ve been intensely critical of Kidney in the week, so let’s give him his due.  His selection, gameplan and substitutions all came off.  Splendidly.  D’arcy played well, Murray had his best game in a year, and bagged a great try, and Kevin McLaughlin proved he can be Ireland’s Tom Wood – even better perhaps.  Turns out there’s a place even at the highest level for a workhorse who does pretty much everything quite well.  And when Locky began to fatigue, Kidney wasted no time in bringing on O’Mahony, who had a marvellous impact.  We thought replacing D’arcy with ROG looked a lily-livered substitution (we were crying out for Ferg to move to 12 and Zebo to come on), but ROG played well and Sexton continued to have a very fine match at 12.

The gameplan was a similar triumph.  Ireland had been excellent at the breakdown last week, but by committing to it so heavily, perhaps it cost them out wide.  Credit, then, for sticking to their guns and targeting the breakdown again and resisting the temptation to simply fan out and not compete for the ball.  Ireland were again outstanding at the ruck, but this time made their tackles and chased superbly – New Zealand’s gameplan is based around committing minimal men to the breakdown and keeping numbers in the line, this time they were forced to bring 4 and 5 men into rucks, removing some of the openfield threat exhibited last week. Fergus McFadden’s performance epitomised the turnaround; error-strewn and given the run around by Julian Savea last week, on Saturday he chased like a dervish and was feral in contact. New Zealand were rattled and looked uncomfortable not being in control of the situation.

The pack were outstanding to a man.  The front row deserve particular credit.  Come to think of it, so do the locks and the loose forwards.  Rory Best, Cian Healy and Sean O’Brien have genuine world class credentials.  It beggars belief that Donnacha Ryan was a Munster reserve until this season; he has a streak of badness in his face, and he backs it up with his ferociously aggressive play.  Jamie Heaslip silenced his critics.

Now for something we don’t like doing – blaming the result on the ref.  We’ve grown tired of this easy way out over the last 18 months (Gerry, hilariously, blamed the ref or his officials for no less than four of our results in the 2011 Six Nations), but today we’re going to give in and take it.  Ireland lost the game because of a classic spineless hometown decision by Nigel Owens in penalising Ireland at the final scrum.  We can claim no expertise when it comes to this facet of the game, but we’re happy to lean on the knowledge and experience of Emmet Byrne, David Flatman and self-confessed scrum nerd extraordinaire Duncan Bell – all of whom took to social media or the radio to say it should have been a penalty to Ireland, not New Zealand, an opinion echoed by Steve Hansen in the aftermath of the game. It was reminiscent of the harebrained decision Owens gave in Thomond Park when he penalised a forward-marching Northampton scrum when it wheeled.  Whatever your thoughts on Poite and his refereeing style – at least you know where you stand with him, and that the forward-moving pack will get the decision.

Now, back to a familiar question.  Can the real Ireland please stand up?  Which team are we?  The one which lost 42-10 or the one which came within a wrong decision of winning in Christchurch?  Kidney’s Ireland have earned a reputation for occasional greatness followed (and preceded) by mush.  The result is a handful of truly memorable games, but little to show for them.  This isn’t really an acceptable pattern for an international team which seeks to be among the world’s best.  Ireland have shown themselves capable of scaling giddy heights and playing with wired intensity, but only when they have a wellspring of emotion on which to draw.  At the very least this group needs to learn to hit the ground running; they appear to sleepwalk through the first match in any given series and respond from there.  If they have designs on winning the Six Nations next Spring – as surely they must – they will need to reduce the range of a wildly fluctuating performance graph.  Ireland must now go to the final test and play in a similar vein.  It’s a tall order, but if they do so, we can consider the tour a success; something which seemed unlikely last week.  Another thrashing and we’re back where we were.  And we really don’t want to go back there.

P.S. how bad was Piri Weepu’s pass for the first Carter drop attempt? It was flying over his head and on the wrong foot. Carter creditably managed to get his kick out which SOB partially blocked down. The ridiculous ‘touched in flight’ law meant NZ were awarded a 5m scrum – O’Brien may have been better taking the chance that Carter’s kick was going to go wide. This is a law which should be changed.

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  1. toro toro

     /  June 18, 2012

    I thought they got the scrum-back because Reddan (with no other choice) carried over the dead-ball line?

    • Stevo

       /  June 18, 2012

      Law 22.11 (b) When a player carrying the ball touches the touch-in-goal line, the dead ball line, or touches the ground beyond those lines, the ball becomes dead. If the ball was carried into in-goal by the attacking team, a drop-out shall be awarded to the defending team. If the ball was carried into in-goal by the defending team, a 5-metre scrum shall be awarded and the attacking team throws in the ball.

      So the result would have been the same as if Reddan had touched it down.

      • toro toro

         /  June 18, 2012

        Ah, cheers. Didn’t know that.

      • paddy o

         /  June 18, 2012

        Franno disputed it yesterday, saying the bnz chasers were offside and didn’t allow reddan play the ball. Didn’t really follow his reasoning I must say

        • Well, if Reddan wasn’t hounded by (possibly offside)chasers he could have caught the ball inside the dead ball line and run it out or kicked it back, thereby avoiding the 5m scrum. So the chasers did make an impact.

      • Mike

         /  June 20, 2012

        They couldn’t have been offside though because O’Brien would have played them onside when he touched the ball.

        They way I’ve always thought about this touched in flight rule is this: It went out of an Irish player, so new zealand get possession when play is restarted. The scrum five is merely how play is restarted rather than an attempt to give advantage to the attacking team. It can seem unfair, but them’s the breaks. A scrum five is really the only way to give possession back to them when it’s gone dead without unnecessarily complicating the rules.

  2. Stevo

     /  June 18, 2012

    Jamie Heaslip could have scored a match winning try with half the All-Blacks hanging off him Ginger McLoughlin-style and he wouldn’t silence his critics. Unfortunately he’s become one of those names who will always be derided from certain sections of the public no matter what he does.

    Brian Moore, who knows a thing or two about scrummaging – “Sorry Nigel – utter bollocks ‘ running it round’ a completely made up law from you Elite referees – like not taking the hit – nonsense”.

    To answer your question about which team we are, we’re both. We’re a team which produces occasional brilliance and my god is it frustrating. When you know what you can do but you simply don’t do it often enough. I hate to be the type to call for the head of the coach, but things aren’t working when the team more often than not fails to play to its ability. Declan Kidney has been taking some shocking abuse for some time now, an awful lot of it from some of the more blinkered of my Leinster compatriots, but since the end of this year’s 6 Nations I’ve agreed with their opinion that it is time for a change. This tour, and the great performance on Saturday, won’t change that. I can’t help feeling frustrated that the coming Autumn internationals and the subsequent 6 Nations are going to be wasted under a management team that won’t be there this time next year.

  3. “Whatever your thoughts on Poite and his refereeing style – at least you know where you stand with him, and that the forward-moving pack will get the decision.”

    But isn’t the big complaint about Poite that he’ll give the forward moving pack the decision every time, even when they are scrummaging illegally?

    • Absolutely it is! There’s plenty to complain about with Monsieur Poite – just ask any Munster fan! At least you do (generally, not always) have a sense which way the scrum penalty is going to go when he’s around though! With Owens (and others) it feels like a lottery much of the time.

      • Shrek

         /  June 19, 2012

        It’s the same with all of them. These Elite panel refs are supposed to be the 9(?) best in the world, yet none of them seem to have even a basic understanding of scrum laws. I know there are a lot of different things happening at the same time during scrums but all refs should be able to spot incorrect binding. It’s blatantly obvious when a TH is binding on the arm of a LH instead of his back. The same when a LH drops his bind to pull the TH down. These are both very dangerous as they can cause a scrum to collapse, yet we constantly see refs call for resets, or worse penalise the innocent prop for being pulled off his feet.

        It’s a complicated area of the game, but it really annnoys me when commentators and journalists start going on about “lottery”, “free-for-all” and “dark arts of the front row”. There are laws that govern every aspect of the scrum and if the top refs understood these and implemented them correctly, there would be a lot less contentious results like saturday and the Rabo final.

  4. The ref got in the way of Weepu’s pass for the failed dropkick, forcing him into an ugly pass over the ref’s head.

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