Last Tango in Hamilton

Egg was on a drinking scouting mission in Munster on Saturday night, and the punters could be neatly split into 2 groups – those who had seen it and those who hadn’t. The former group had pallid, zombie-like faces (rather like Ireland themselves) and the latter had those wide-eyed just-seen-a-wrecked-train macabre fascination faces where they pretend they don’t want to see highlights, but they really do. When the bar obliged with extended highlights (i.e. all the BNZ tries), their faces slowly turned into the death stare ones.

It was not pretty. Most of us expected Ireland to come out with a performance somewhere between the first and second tests, allowing for the expected improvement from New Zealand, and a defeat (and tour) with honour. What we got was a tired, disengaged and passive dog’s dinner of a performance – only the front five emerged with anything approaching credit and the back row and three-quarter line were under massive pressure and buckled pretty early on. It was a tough day at the office.

The idea that Deeen Caddah would be missed was dismissed within 2 or 3 minutes – Chief’s inside backs Aaron Cruden and Sunny Bull were imperious, attacking (and breaking) the Irish line at will – the Irish plan for SBW that had been executed so diligently for the first and second test failed, and when Cruden went off, BNZ were doing better than a point a minute – we can thank Beauden Barrett taking it a little handier on his debut for it not being a 70- or 80-burger.

The other alleged chink in the BNZ armour was the back row – Kieran Read was injured, Ruchie was at 8 and Sam Cane and Liam Messam were making their first starts of the series. Well, all three were regal – Ruchie seemed to be everywhere, even soaring like Shaggy for restarts, and Cane and Messam were to the manor born.

With the inside backs and back row running backwards, there was always likely to be trouble, and so it proved.

So what can we say? Well, the first thing to point out is that this was the 17th test in the 11th month of the season, and was 7 days after the best, and most intense, performance of the year – the tanks were simply empty. There was probably an understanding that BNZ would come out like express trains, and the plan was to build a Maginot Line and hope Ireland were still in it after 20 minutes. In reality, it was exactly like the Maginot Line – BNZ just went through and around it at their leisure. Once the third try went in, heads dropped, the tiredness manifested itself and it was game over. Only Bob, Conor Murray, Donnacha Ryan and Mike Ross didn’t miss a tackle.  A performance of this level would have lost to Italy or Scotland.

Long as the season was, it has been no shorter in England or Wales.  Neither had to face New Zealand, but South Africa and Australia are hardly shrinking violets of the rugby world.  They came out of their (dead rubber) final tests with an aggregate losing margin of a single point.  Ireland lost by 60.

This was Ireland’s first doughnut sunce the Argentina tour in 2007, aka the Alarm Bells Tour, when Eddie’s Untouchables went to Poland, and the rest dirt tracked it to the other side of the world. The difference here was we had kickable penalties, but creditably went for tries – it meant we suffered a record defeat, but the players were right – taking the 3 was the cowardly option.

But still, the record books will say this was Ireland’s worst defeat to New Zealand – and this team is better than that. The muddled rabble we finished up as featured 12 players who played in the HEC final plus Donnacha Ryan, Conor Murray and Keith Earls. The folks in charge are going to have to take some heat here, just as they took credit for the changes that oh-so-nearly got a victory in Christchurch.

Lets start with the lightning rod that is Paddy Wallace. Firstly, Wallace was the best 12 in Ireland this season, and his set up for Dan Tuohy’s try in the HEC final was a thing of beauty. He has been a mainstay of Deccie’s squads right the way through his reign and is in the form of his career, but he wasn’t selected for this tour. It looked odd at the time, and it looked even odder when he was parachuted in from a beach in Portugal for the third test. Wallace’s size and lack of sharpness was ruthlessly targeted by New Zealand, but it was the management who put him in there. Deccie said before the game it was Wallace’s choice to hang out with his family instead of going to New Zealand to gather splinters, but it was Deccie’s choice to fly him over and he judge Wallace ready for SBW – fail. 

Deccie’s line of choice on this tour is how great a step-up test rugby is from provincial rugby – but it’s worth recalling that during the Six Nations, when Irish players are released from camp late in the week for routine Pro12 turkey-shoots, Joe Schmidt was reluctant to put them into the team ahead of those who have trained with the team all week.   And yet, for a test away to New Zealand, Wallace flew across the world from a end-of-season family holiday, arrived on Wednesday and started a test against the best team in the world on Saturday.

We’ve a sneaky feeling budget constraints affected the tour adversely.  The touring panel always looked two to three members light.  This contributed to the Paddy Wallace disaster, and also resulted in the likes of Gilroy and Madigan spending the summer at home when they could have been given a taste of test rugby (how beneficial it would have been is, however, hard to quantify).  Gerry Thornley today alluded to the scheduled flights home probably requiring some players to pack their bags before the game in an attempt to save on costs, effectively treating the final test as a stop-off on the way to the airport.  We thought the days of corner-cutting in elite Irish sport were behind us.  Perhaps not…

A surprising bone of contention from our Munster friends was the decision to bring on Rog after 55 minutes (again). We assumed they’d be supportive of the favourite son, but not any more. In this instance, it was effectively telling Fergus McFadden that the national management considered Johnny Sexton and Keith Earls as better centres than he is. The perception in Munster is that Deccie is afraid of what the always-quotable O’Gara will say in the papers if he doesn’t play. There was huge frustration that Ian Madigan wasn’t there to come off the bench and get the type of experience that Deccie Fitzpatrick will find so priceless in years to come.

Allied to all the above was the number of players who had games much far below their usual standards (from the ultra-experienced captain BOD, to our best player in the first 2 tests SOB, to Kevin McLaughlin on his 4th cap) – the bodies and minds had nothing left to offer and gave up.

And when that happens, it’s the management who should be asked questions – this team looks muddled and in need of new direction. Failure to back up good performances is a long-standing failing of this group.  We aren’t going go down the Deccie-must-go route (yet), but at the very least there is need for a dedicated attack coach to free up Les Kiss to get back to what he knows; some pro-active gameplan to maximise the resources at the coaches disposal; and a medium-term selection policy that builds towards RWC15 – we are treading water at an alarming rate at present, and this is not good enough.

Two damning statistics from this season – firstly, leaving aside Tier 2 teams, invitational sides and Italy, our win-draw-loss record was 2-1-10 – nowhere near acceptable. Of this 1-1-1 came from the type of once-off reactionary performances we have grown used to (Australia, France in Six Nations, New Zealand second test), leaving 1-0-9 from common-or-garden performances. That speaks for itself.

Secondly, a player like Chris Henry, who is old enough to be considered an experienced player, but young enough to still be in his prime by the next RWC; someone who ruled the breakdown in Thomond Park in the HEC quarter final, and is in the form of his career in a position where we have occasionally struggled, played only the last 15 minutes of a season of 1,360 minutes of test rugby. In contrast, the 4th choice lock in Munster, whose top level career is essentially over, was first choice right up until the end of the 14th test of the season. Do these speak of a management team with an acceptable knowledge of the players at their disposal?

This was a dispiriting and hugely demoralising end to a poor season from Ireland. Let’s hope its a low point, that the players make the most of a well-deserved holiday, and that the management get a big huge mirror and stare intently at themselves in it.

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  1. What I don’t get is how McFadden is still deemed good enough to be an international wing – when he clearly is not – and not good enough to be played in his preferred position (which to judge by BOD’s comments to Gerry Goebbels Thornley, BOD thinks he is good enough to be playing).

    Am also surprised you think Duce Kidney should be given still more time. His lucky Grand Slam deservedly bought him time but the standard of Irish performances (and game planning, tactics, management) since then has been poor – a handful of one-off intensity-based performances aside.

    Wardie writes today (again) that Ireland should get Joe Schmidt on the ticket. That is both naïve and shortsighted. Naïve, as: why would a successful coach like Schmidt want ‘on’ to a ticket that is ailing and where it is clearly not a very good management team, with Kidney not someone people seem to want to work with (Gaffney being a case in point)? Shortsighted, as we need to set our sights higher and hire an international level coach with the proper skillset to run an international team, and with a proper support coaching team.

  2. Amiga500

     /  June 25, 2012

    I said last week that this final test would go a long way to telling us where the team, the management and both are actually at.

    While I was expecting a beating, I wasn’t expecting 60-zip.

    The team are now quite consistent… consistently bad with a once-in-a-blue-moon performance out of nowhere. I think its now time the coaching staff were renewed prior to the Autumn – it’ll at least give some bedding in time prior to the 2013 6N.

  3. Xyz

     /  June 25, 2012

    Is money a problem for the blazers? A bare bones touring party, double jobbing coaches…. maybe the IRFU can’t afford any one better than Kidney, and certainly can’t afford to break his contract and hire someone else?

    We need to do our patriotic duty and buy more green lycra!

  4. Anonymous

     /  June 25, 2012

    Kidney to stay?
    Are you nuts Cordite?
    He will, but he shouldn’t. He’s proven time and time again he isn’t up to it.

  5. Just saw we have actually ‘moved’ up in the IRB rankings – the reign of torpor looks set to continue.

  6. Cena2j

     /  June 25, 2012

    This will be 3 coaches in a row sacked/forced to resign. I mean Kidney will be given up to the end of the 6N i’d say and if we lose 3 +games he’s gotta go. He should go now but I’m just trying to put myself in the IRFU’s shoes. they won’t want to sack the GS winning coach right now.
    They really need to use the Autumn series as a development stage. Maybe rotate the teams so you have 4 experienced forwards and 4 inexperienced forwards 3 inexperienced backs and 4 experienced ones. E.g stick a combo of Reddan (exp) with Madigan (inexp) and maybe POC with devin toner etc and then flip it around for the next match regardless off who Ireland are playing

  7. It’s not so much ‘Kidney to stay’ as a reluctance to call for the coach’s head. His contract is up next year, and unless things improve dramatically, we wouldn’t advocate renewing his current deal. The IRFU aren’t going to fire him now, though, so we’re stuck with him for the Autumn internationals and the Six Nations.

    @Cena2j The autumn internationals will be seen as must-win because we need to win one of the big games to cement 8th place in the rankings to avoid being third seeds in the World Cup draw. It seems there’s always a reason to postpone any sort of squad building…

    • Cena2j

       /  June 25, 2012

      I forgot about that ranking system. We’ll be in the ABs pool I suppose. I am right in assuming that the 8th ranked team gets thrown in with number 1? and 7 will be with 2 etc?

    • Except we are now 7th in the rankings, having moved up a place this week – which, itself, is a more a comment of the rankings system.

  8. Paddy Logan

     /  June 25, 2012

    The Maginot Line ..erm..line is priceless and the point about Henry and Stakhanov so damning that there’s no need to call for Kidney’s head. I remain confused though by the gulf in performance between the crisp, clinical Leinster of the HC QF and the abysmal, clueless Ireland of that 3rd test. Granted, the opposition were light years apart but one would still expect that Ireland side to string a few passes together and at least do an impression of an organised defence – we need to greatly reduce the choke tackle as we have been cruelly exposed. Something is very badly awry and it’s about time Bob spoke out again.

  9. Degsy

     /  June 25, 2012

    It’s too easy to blame Kidney for all this team’s ills. It has reached ridiculous and hysterical levels. I see any vestige of coaching credit is being stripped from him, even responsibility for the 09 slam. What next? I am waiting to hear that he was the man on the grassy knoll in 1963 in Dallas and subsequently went on to advise Brian Cowan on economics.

    But make no mistake, Kidney has suffed a major credibility failure. The recall of Wallace will be, I believe, the ultimate symbol of this as it illustrated bad selection of the original party and of the team. It shows signs of muddled thinking under pressure and is close to being the final mistake in a list of bizarre errors.

    But many of our players are guilty of an equal failure of credibility. They have a considerable amount of soul searching to do too. England and Wales and Scotland played as many games as Ireland but they didn’t just give up and take solace in a long season or genetics or whatever like we did on Saturday. So why did Ireland? They talk constantly about learning and moving on. But they never do.

    As much as Declan Kidney, the players have an awful lot of questions to answer.

    • Don

       /  June 26, 2012

      I think its just a little unfair to take aim at the players in this case. They were exhausted after a long hard season, its up to management to keep that in mind and rotate accordingly. But of course, our friend Declan never does.
      Those guys follow the game plan they are giving, regardless of if they like it or not (safe bet that they dont) and tried their upmost. Game two shows them at their fighting best. To do that and then be told, ‘New plan guys is the old plan, but try harder’?
      Fantastic article here
      I cannot remember where I got it from, but its a fair and balanced view (from Ulster fans no less!) and one that definatly shows DK in a bad light.

  10. Interesting article and site!

    Sounds like the Ireland team is stuck between a rock and a hard place at the moment. Les Kiss seems to be a good defence coach, so he definitely needs to go back to specialising in that.

    It’s hard to make excuses because what can you say about a 60-nil scoreline? It’s the type of score minnows get put on them during a world cup. It must be heartbreaking for Ireland fans. Unfortunately it really was one game too far for all of these players. As you point out, some of the best players had terrible games.

    If it’s any consolation, at the top level most teams have the potential to get thrashed like that. You have to be up for every game at international level. I recall South Africa and Australia both getting 50 point put on them in 2003. New Zealand was off their game in the second test and went from a 30 point margin to a 3 point margin (barely) and back up to a 60 point margin.

    By the way, what does the ‘b’ stand for in BNZ?


    • Egg Chaser

       /  June 25, 2012

      As Matt Williams said, its not the All Blacks mate, its Bloody New Zealand! He has a BNZ Cup to remind all viewers of this fact!

  11. Andrew

     /  June 26, 2012

    Fascinating article as a Kiwi. Was simply shocking to see how quickly the Irish lost any fight after 10-15 minutes of the 3rd test, especially after the fantastic showing in Chch. After reading that they hadn’t had a break for almost a year though it definitely made sense. Also the amount they poured into that 2nd test would obviously have drained them, I have never seen a player look as exhausted/gutted as BOD in his post-match interview in Chch. The continuing selection of Ronan O’Gara mystifies me, especially when I hear there are a couple of good young prospects waiting in the wings. Sexton is a good step in the right direction, but then bringing someone on halfway-3/4 of the way through the game who seems only intent on kicking is just depressing to watch. He is truly one dimensional and actively killed any attacking flow the Irish managed to get. Love the willingness of Cian healy, Rory Best and Mike Ross though, a very good front row unit.

  12. JSRF

     /  June 26, 2012

    After a few days reflecting on Saturdays game I have a few points to throw into the mix:

    . Kidney will never take Joe Schmidt on as past of his backroom team. He is too much of a cute hoor to do this knowing that if Ireland get results Schmidt will get the credit and the pressure will rank up on Deccie

    . The manner in which in the Ireland team gave up surely shows that the management ticket have lost the dressing room. Kidney, despite his technical flaws, is supposed to be an expert man manager but couldn’t motivate his troops for one last stand.

    . Is the player management program not supposed to stop our players burning out like this? Or did I miss something there. Even now Kidney has to realise that rotation is a must not only to keep players fresh(er) but also to develop new partnerships and expose players to international rugby. One of my biggest selection gripes in Kidney ignoring Sean Cronin, I believe we have a seriously talented hooker there but Kidney gives he 5 minutes here, 10 minutes there. Surely the time was ripe to give him 40 minutes in the Lions den on Saturday. When he entered the fray he actually looked like he wanted to be there which is more than can be said for a lot of other. Also the last thing we need is to see the likes of BOD playing 80 minutes against Samoa in the Autumn Internationals again, these are games where we could try the likes of Cave or EOM at 13.

    . How do Ireland go forward from here? I think the squad needs freshening up. That means saying goodbye to the usual old suspects (we know who they are at this stage). Given the IRFU aren’t going to sack Kidney another way of freshening things up is to appoint a new captain, I’d like to see this come from outside the “established” leadership group ie BOD, PPOC, Best, ROG, Heaslip. The two names that immediately spring to mind are Donnacha Ryan and Bob Kearney.

    . Final point McFadden is a 12, Mc Fadden is a 12, McFadden is a 12

  13. Rich_aus

     /  June 26, 2012

    Very surprised that Kidney not getting hammered here. We are the only team in the 6 nations that are getting progressively worse, our current ranking will get worse after the autumn tests if we keep the same coaching staff on board, potentially 9th in the world rankings will be a disgrace but will be justified. Picking players on past performances cost Woodward his reputation after the Lins, and Kidney has done it now for 2 years. Kid has his favourites as any coach did, but for him to think that picking these has beens is going to help the irish game then he is a bigger fool that I already think he is

    We have the 2 best club sides in Europe, who know when to attack, defend solidly and attack he breakdown with gusto, watching the same players weeks later, they are clearly being told the opposite by their coaching staff. They are all top players, but our gameplan is non existent and plan b? We don t have a plan a – “same way until it opens up, the gaps will appear” this is nt schoolboys anymore, we need progressive coaches with long term plans and ways to develop our players, or at least have them playing to their potential.

    And lastly – Darren cave gave a good account of himself in the hc final vs drico and darce, and probs ulsters best player all year, yet he gets 7 mins on the entire tour with the score way beyond Ireland’s reach? My question is – honestly – do you think kidney had ever seen cave play apart from the hc final?

  14. I think the calls for Kidney’s head,while sparing the players deserved criticism, are a very human frailty in action – scapegoating .Hence, the delusion that it’s Kidney preventing the Ireland XV from playing like Leinster. I’d rather posit the theory that, rather like Kearney said about Munster not so long ago (the so-called “Enfield Speech”), the Leinster players are different animals in Blue, and give just that little bit more when playing for the province than they do when playing for Ireland. Both coaches and players would have taken enormous credit had we won Test 2; they must both take the enormous debit from Test 3’s abject surrender.

    Saying that, it might be time for a coaching change, as 4 years in charge is a long time! Conor O’Shea, please.

    There’s an interesting, but reverse, scapegoating effect currently going on here in England after their rather miserable exit from Euro 2012, to the effect that the players just aren’t “good enough”, while Saintly Uncle Woy seems immune from criticism, despite England looking a badly set up and extremely poorly coached team. Scapegoating.

  15. Rich_aus

     /  June 27, 2012

    It would not surprise me if the players were more up for it playing for their clubs. They have detailed analysis of the opposition, phase by phase breakdown of were to attack, weaknesses in the opposition, and encouraged to use their attacking skills when they counterattack. At Ireland – what have they at the moment? A negative coach who would take a 0-0 in every game if he could, play a slow pick and go game and kick the corners., earning the right to go wide – blah blah blah…. Would you be inspired to play that drivel if you are a Kearney, ODriscoll or a Bowe? i doubt it very much.

    If we lose our Autumn tests as i expect we will looking at the way we are going, and Scotland win 1 of theirs, we ll be 9th in the IRB rankings. We ll win 2/5 6 nations games and be in exactly the same situation. We are the only nation that will accept failure – look at our record, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, all the teams around us have improved, Scotland are a good side now with a good breed of young players coming through. 2 years ago we benchmarked ourselves against England, look at the changes they have made, the new guard is gone, they have bled an entire team in less than a year, they just drew 14-14 with SA away and were worth the win imho. Realistically – do we pip ourselves against the Scots? And adopt their “happy to be here” attitude? Certainly going that way……..

    • HenryFitz

       /  June 27, 2012

      It is simply incorrect to state that Ireland play a slow pick and go game. In the last test, you could count on one hand the occasions that Ireland picked and went. The vast majority of Ireland’s attacks took place wide out, in contrast to the second test, when a more varied approach was utilised. These wide-wide tactics weren’t the principal reason Ireland lost, as many individual, plus a few collective, defensive errors proved costly, but they weren’t exactly effective. The same tactics were used in the first test, which would suggest that Ireland are now attempting to play a game at which they are not yet very good. At present, they seem to be playing like a panicky and highly inaccurate Leinster.

      • That’s fair Henry – we certainly didn’t pick and drive on Saturday. We panicked and chased the game and went wide-wide-wide! The game was lost at the collisions. Even two minutes in to the match you sensed it was going to be a long morning.

        Our gameplan seems to vary wildly, we rarely seem to get the balance right. Against Wales in the Six Nations we kicked the ball downtown umpteen times and played a lot of one-man-out stuff. On saturday we ran from everywhere. It’s hard to see what we’re playing at.

      • HenryFitz

         /  June 27, 2012

        Yeah. Ireland are like a less-talented, but equally bipolar, France.

        To be fair, a number of the wide attacks produced half-gaps and spaces for players to run into, but the passing when under pressure of contact was appallingly bad. Any good work was almost immediately undone by a mistake or a turnover. I can barely remember an Irish team turning in such a high error-count. Not since the days of Dylan O’Grady and Kevin Nowlan.

        A lot of the criticism of Kidney has been poisonous, misinformed and parochial, but it seems incredible that he could remain in situ after a performance like that. If nothing else, the players clearly do not fear him any more, and are not willing to follow his instructions.

        I suppose the two problems facing the IRFU are (1) the financial cost of sacking Kidney (2) the difficulty in finding someone who’s available and willing. If they were interested in replacing Kidney, then feelers should have been sent out months ago, as all the good NH coaches will be under contract. Someone from the SH could be asked, but it would be uncharacteristically reckless for the IRFU to parachute a SH provincial coach in to manage the national team. The only credible candidates with NH experience are Wayne Smith, Nick Mallett and John Kirwan. Smith would be best, but the NZRU won’t let him go. Kirwan and Mallett were not particularly successful with Italy, and are no longer cutting-edge.

  16. Rich_aus

     /  June 28, 2012

    Misinterpreted slightly here – I m saying that Kidney is the type of coach that would have us picking and going for 80, obvs we play a bit more expansive with our personel and backs coach. Agree that our gameplan does nt seem to have much structure. Also the Ruddock comment relating to after 2013 6 nations, agree that no chance we will remove him before aut tests.

  17. Sin é

     /  July 2, 2012

    Where to start ?
    Looks to me like Kidney got it right about Carr – if he can’t make it in Leinster, he isn’t going to make it for Ireland. Secondly, Carr went to the Churchill Cup where I think he got injured in the first game and Denis Hurley was brought in then. McFadden & Sexton came through this way where the English Saxon should have proved to be a bit more testing than either Canada or the USA.

    Pointless bringing Madigan anywhere until he starts taking place kicks for Leinster in meaningful games.

    Well worth a listen to is Enda McNulty (sports psychologist to a few of the Leinster players) talking about the tour to NZ (and the results in Poland). He said he knew some of them very well (so its highly likely he has the inside track on what they think).

    Missing big players (he listed POC, Bowe, Ferris, Luke, Ross & D’Arcy (1st Test), Jamie & D’Arcy (3rd test).
    Season is far too long and too demanding. He said Brad Thorn was amazed at the lack of rest/recovery time the players got here (which is the opposite of what you think!)

    Soccer defeats in Euros (he also works with a few of the team)
    Said it was full system failure, blamed Trap & John Delaney (FAI).
    Players not well prepared. Tactics all wrong. Also said that the players needed to take some responsibility as well.

    Note the contrasting assessments of the management – and thats from someone with the inside track.

    Here is a link to podcast. About half way through.

    Sports – performance coach Enda McNulty and Damian Lawlor in studio with John
    Wednesday, 12:00 p.m.
    Sports stories updates with Damian Lawlor of the Sunday Independent in studio with John plus Enda McNulty, All Ireland winner with Armagh & Deirdre Flynn of our Underdogs Kerry Camogie Team on the line to John


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