Six Nations Weekend Diary

This post is from our regular column in the Irish Post, the highest-selling newspaper for the Irish in Britain (which these days includes businessmen, lawyers and doctors, as well as braying bankrupt builders in Cheltenham). The paper is published on Wednesday’s in Britain.

Friday:

Mid-morning, and the England team is out, and it’s greeted with underhand smiles by the Irish – Manu is on the bench and they have an odd-looking backrow – nice! We can take these lot is the bullish feeling around Dublin – someone mentions the army of blindsides we brought to RWC07, and how the English backrow reminds them of it – shudders all round, and the conversation moves on. Billy Twelvetrees will be targeted, they say. Brad Barritt is a useless bosh merchant, they say.  We’re confident, they (quietly) say.

Deccie’s response at lunchtime is predictable – as we expected, no changes to the XV or the bench. Self-doubt is beginning to creep in, particularly when looking at the respective benches. Still, a quick vox pop of some wild-eyed, unkempt, white plastic bag-carrying punters outside the early house told us while there was occasional dissention, fans were largely in agreement with the selection:

Rev. Mervyn McBible (Ballymena): The absence of Andrew Trimble is a clear signal Declan Kidney has invited the apocalypse upon himself

Carroll O’Kelly-Ross (Blackrock): Simon Zebo is muck roysh – all backs should be Leinster anyway, loike?

George O’Connor (Cork Con): Where is Stephen Archer? Where is Danny Barnes? Where is ROG??

Saturday:

We awaken to more cautious optimism – the selections have sunk in, and pundits (in Ireland) seem unanimous – it’s going to be tough, but we can squeak through. The consensus is that Ireland have a better backrow, and are a bit smarter – watch out for Sean O’Brien, the key man.

Amazingly, there were other rugger games on this weekend, and, after last weekend’s rugby-a-rama, it was back to somewhat more average fare, particularly in Paris. Scotland cruised past an inept Italy, and looked like they had remembered how Jim Telfer taught rucking; and then France put in an truly desperate performance in front of some seriously unimpressed Parisians, George North’s try and Freddy Michalak’s disinterested hands and feet do the damage, and France are nought from two.

Any lessons to be learned? Well, we beat Wales, who beat France – good news, performance affirmation for Ireland. England beat Scotland easily, who beat Italy easily, who beat France – bad news, performance affirmation for England. Both teams might just be as good as they looked.

Sunday:

First things first, and a quick look outside tells us it’s not a nice day – grey, dank and rainy, precisely the kind of weather the English pack will have wanted. Our skill advantage in the backrow won’t be as marked with wet grubby ball and a looming set-piece contest.

The rain wouldn’t help the atmosphere either – the object is merely to get to the stadium before pneumonia sets in, rather than stop in three or four of Dublin 4’s finest watering holes along the way.  It’s a rather ominous feel – unlike the cliché of Irish teams who thrive at dirty in-your-face, muck-and-muller rugby, this more skilful and considered generation has always preferred dry tracks, where its catalogue of backline moves can be unleashed. News began filtering through to trudging wet fans that Brian O’Driscoll’s glamorous better half was now a Yummy Mummy – plus the new Daddy was still going to play – high fives all round!

The smiles, however, were short-lived. Ireland produced a catty and error-strewn performance – a first half of unforced errors and indiscipline gave way to a second half of aimless kicking as Ronan O’Gara struggled to replicate days of yore. By half-time, Ireland had accumulated nine unforced errors and one probable citing – Jamie Heaslip, Mike McCarthy and Gordon D’Arcy major culprits in spilling forward in most uncharacteristic fashion, and DJ Church taking a likely trip to the naughty step for the next game(s).

More crucial, though, was the injury to Johnny Sexton – a pulled hamstring on a seriously poor pitch (who schedules soccer matches four days before a rugby match in a country where it rains every other day?). On came the once-great O’Gara, who just doesn’t have the game for this level any more – his kicking from hand, formerly peerless, barely managed 15 metres from penalties, and was easily hovered up by the flawless English back three from open play. He was a turnover machine too – it’s not his fault he keeps getting picked, but any chance of an Irish win was lost when Sexton pulled up.

Simon Zebo was another who didn’t see half-time, and in fact he barely got his ankle-hugging socks dirty – limping off with a broken metatarsal that will keep him out for ten weeks i.e. the season. The final injury toll included Sean O’Brien, Donnacha Ryan, Bob Kearney and Brian O’Driscoll – not all pitch-induced, and, to be frank, the attritional fare against Wales was probably as much to blame as this game.

The English defensive line was expertly marshalled all day, with speed and hard tackling to the fore –  Ireland had barely a sniff of a break, and none close to the English 22. The scrum and maul got on top in the third quarter, and we were briefly level on the scoreboard, but the English bench, as we expected, made a big difference. We said in the build-up that Ireland needed to be more than seven points in front on the hour mark to win the game due to the strength of the English bench; they weren’t and without the ability to build on the platform the forwards were offering, they were squeezed to death.

Captain, and speaker of Classic English Rugby Voice, Chris Robshaw, was man of the match for his tackle count, but kicker and defensive rock Owen Farrell or either of the team’s full-backs, Alex Goode and Mike Brown, could have got it too. On the Irish side, O’Brien had a decent game, Peter O’Mahony was visible until he wilted, but that was it.

The crowd were as cranky as the team – Farrell was quite unsportingly heckled while kicking, and any attempt to start Swing Low was boo-ed out as if it was Dylan Hartley himself at the mike. With a poor performance, key players injured, nothing going right and a shot at a Grand Slam gone, it was not a good day for Irish rugby.

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23 Comments

  1. Elsmido

     /  February 15, 2013

    I think your assessment is a tad harsh. Granted,we didn’t get the result we wanted, and the mistakes were frustrating but we were no too far off the pace throughout the game. Losing Sexton was a killer blow and the decision not to kick for touch and go for seven instead of three was key.

    One would have expected Rog to have the composure to see us through, especially given the conditions, but as has been acknowledged even by myopic Munstermen, he just doesn’t have it any more. You can be sure Kidney will start him against Scotland though, confirming his inate conservatism.

    England have received a lot of plaudits for their performance(mainly from themselves). But they are not the type of side that would send shivers down my spine and on another day we could prevail.

    What was glaringly obvious was our lack of strength in depth. Is it just because they are not there or have not been brought on?

    • Len

       /  February 15, 2013

      A bit of both. There are promising players coming through but baring injury or retirement they won’t get a look in at the Irish team. I used to give out the Eddie O’Sullivan was overally conservative and stuck to his favourites even when better options presented themselves (Simon Easterby?). Compared to Decci he seems almost Mourinhoesque in his player management. Barring injury the team will be the same that started the second half last Sunday with Kilcoyne coming in for Church inspite of the fact that Tom Court is the better player at present. The only upside of this is that each bad performance is another potential nail in the coffin of Decci’s career.

  2. Shite read

  3. Amiga500

     /  February 15, 2013

    Not convinced on POM. He did catch a good bit of lineout ball, but aside from that…

    I’m hearing of a tackle count of… wait for it… 2. (Yes, TWO.)

    Upon hearing this, I watched the first half, noting his involvement (2nd half still to watch… a house move this weekend is gonna disrupt that) – but he spent more time in the 13 channel than he did near rucks. OK, he caught the eye with a couple of 5+m carries, carries which owed a lot to his being out wide.

    To be fair to POM, this was perhaps under instruction – but damn poor instruction on a day when the ball rarely made it beyond the outside-half.

    I know its easy to be a smart-arse with hindsight… but I think a SOB-Henry-Heaslip backrow would have worked much better for us on a heavy pitch. Is there a rule which says the coach must announce the team before the day of the game? It might have been a smart move for DK to only name the team when the conditions the match would be played in would be apparent. Maybe something for the folks in charge to consider.

  4. Jlo

     /  February 15, 2013

    D’Arcy out for rest of season which munster player will he bring in to play with ROG?

  5. Scrumdog

     /  February 15, 2013

    The Rugby Gods are speaking to Kidney through injury to key players and his own insane selection of combinations….illustrating that he must give youth a chance and build toward the RWC now!

    taking a stab at it…….Marshall and Keatley the only new cap starters with one new cap from the bench in Madigan. not a weak selection at all…?

    Kearney, Gilroy, O’Driscoll, L.Marshall, Fitzgerald, Keatley, Reddan, Heaslip, Henry, O’Brien, O’Callaghan, Ryan, Ross, Best, Court.

    Kilcoyne, Cronin, Fitzpatrick, Henderson, Murray, Madigan, McFadden.

  6. Rich

     /  February 16, 2013

    L Marshall and Henry off injured for ulster – looks like marshals will rule him out, Henry precaution. McFadden can step into 12, been stuck on the wing for long enough so why not let him play 12.

    POM put in a good shift – certainly would nt pick him out for criticism after England game. He deserves his place in back row. Scotland although high on confidence have weak defence at 9, 10 and 12 so think we ll see POM and SOB belting down those channels.

    I do agree with woc, sexton going off was a huge loss. ROG made England back 3 look like world beaters by kicking Down their throats, Scotland have found a good mix in their back 3, gas in Hogg, power in visser and undoubted quality in kiwi maitland – so rog’s limited kicking game could lead to more difficulty!

    • Anonymous

       /  February 16, 2013

      Seen on several emails on the Indo and IT that POM only made two tackles and was ‘seagulling’ out in midfield. Must watch the game again on utube and count POM’s ‘completed tackles” Its one thing carrying the ball and totally another defending going backwards..SOB had 23 tackles. Paul Marshall doesnt get enough minutes with Ulster yet, McFadden is worth a run in his preferred position.

  7. Jlo

     /  February 16, 2013

    Not impressed by Murray but Reddan has done nothing this year would give Paul Marshall a start.

  8. Keith

     /  February 16, 2013

    Strangely silent on Heaslip who I thought had a very average game. Maybe he should be benched instead of POM. ROG was selected on the bench for exactly what happened on Saturday, Sexton going early and needing an experienced man to play for field position in rotten conditions. Given how bad he was Kidney has to let him go. Put out two of the three young ones against the Scots. Not ideal as we have no 12 but there is no point waiting any longer.

    Talking of 12, Wallace is playing well for Ulster and if we see Marshall as the future Irish 12 then no harm in using Wallace as a stop gap this season, or at least until Marshall recovers from last nights injury. The only problem with Wallace is that no mateer how well he plays for Ulster he never seems to deliver in Green. After that McFadden is the only option and despite looking good at 12 none of his coaches will play him there – do they know something I don’t? Forget about Earls, he should be on the wing and McSharry probably isn’t ready

  9. Anonymous

     /  February 16, 2013

    COWARD

  10. Ray

     /  February 16, 2013

    This is appalling tosh. Munster bad, Leinster great is the short version! Although it does confirm that you are clearly an idiot. Clown, go back to boring the family

    • This may come as a surprise to you Ray, but, since we have a brain, we tend not to reduce everything to Munster vs Leinster.

      And to surprise you further, I’m from Ulster, married to someone from Munster. I consider you and your ilk (from both Munster and Leinster) who do try to categorize everything in such a narrow parochial fashion as the biggest drag on the success of Irish rugby, and am not alone.

    • zdm

       /  February 17, 2013

      Hey Ray, unfortunately you forgot the link to your own blog so we could all go there to be enlightened. I’m sure WoC were just fumbling in the rugby dark until you came along but now that they know they are clowns and idiots, I’m sure they’ll be more than happy to pass over the reigns to such a rugby luminary.

      Seriouisly, not everyone who comes on this blog agrees with the boys and some have even accused them of bias towards a player or a team but usually they have a discussion about it that respects peoples right to an opinion.
      If you can’t back up your teenage jibes with even the most rudimentary of evidence or examples, or even construct a proper sentence then I suggest you follow the advice of the Rolling Stones and get off our cloud.

  11. Rich

     /  February 16, 2013

    Nice post Ray – you come up with that all by yourself! I think WOC should invite you to write a guest blog as you seem to be so knowledgable……and to top it off a personal dig on a rugby blog? Bravo sir.

    On back of this piece – any one watch munster v Scarlets? ROG Completely outfoxed by a kid playing 2nd ever senior game….not to take anything away from Williams, kicked well, but rog was awful once again, Ended on 2/5……

  12. McSharry (starter for his province) isn’t ready but Luke Marshall (occasional sub, starts against Italian teams) is? Never mind the Munster/Leinster bunfight, I’ve got a bigger gripe…

    • zdm

       /  February 17, 2013

      If the sole criteria for an Irish cap is the number of provincial starts, I’d shudder to think what team we would be putting out against Scotland.

      Luke Marshall’s starts have been limited by injury and the good form of PWal this year but he looks the part. While Zebre are the bunny-boys of the league, he still put Bergamasco on his arse a few times which you don’t do without a talent for a bit of “simple football”.

      I’d also wager on the Italian side of they came up against the likes of London Welsh or Newcastle.

  13. Jlo

     /  February 17, 2013

    What a great forum WoC is. Following last weeks criticism of TV RTM reached new heights last night. They confirmed Widow Twankey will start at no ten against Scotland

    • Leinsterlion

       /  February 17, 2013

      Which player is “widow twankey” a pseudonym for, what is a widow twankey? Also RTM? You’re going to have to get better at sardonic references brah, you’ve confused me.

  14. Jlo

     /  February 17, 2013

    Radio telefis munster and the one in the pantomime headress bouncing kicks off the posts

    • Leinsterlion

       /  February 17, 2013

      Radio Telifis Munster, LOL. I’m stealing that one

  15. jojo

     /  February 17, 2013

    Heaslip didn’t play well by his standards but i think he was the leading ball carrier and highest tackle count. He made a couple of obvious mistakes which the media were very quick to pick up on. I don’t think POM can play instead of him. I feel the rest of the pack are carrying POM at the moment and its a luxury we cant afford to have. Why do people try make it a leinster/munster debate when its Ulster being the ones jipped.

    • scrumdog

       /  February 17, 2013

      Couldn’t agree with you more! There should not be a provincial bias in selection of the best available team for Ireland,,,,,if a player is the form player, he starts, once the team balance is not disrupted too badly.

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