Ireland: The Six Nations Verdict

Twenty-fourteen, eh? It feels a long way from Frankie’s annual “Grand Slam” prediction [Aside: remember Glenn McGrath used to predict a 5-0 Australia victory in every Ashes series? Not sure if Glenn McGrath was ever Steven Smith’s agent, mind] – a chastening series last year saw Ireland lose to Scotland and Italy, and avoid the wooden spoon only on points difference from France. The series was catastrophic, with virtually everything that could go wrong going wrong. For once, expectations seem realistic, with the trophy-laden mid-00’s a distant memory. We can recall in 2010 how a Triple Crown was being sniffed at ahead of our last game against Scotland – which we promptly lost. You never know when it might come back, and we’d gladly take one this year.

Before we go into too much detail about Ireland’s prospects this year, there are a couple of things it is worthwhile to consider:

  • Last year, Ireland finished 5th in the log, and missed out on the wooden spoon only on points difference. But this doesn’t represent Ireland’s real level – they hadn’t finished lower than 3rd since the Five turned Six – and the players remain competitive at HEC level. Last year was a complete bust, the coach was a busted flush who had lost the confidence of swathes of the dressing room, and the campaign was an unmitigated disaster – it’s safe to write it off as a uniquely poor year
  • Joe Schmidt is an excellent coach. In Leinster, he developed a team based on ruthlessness, accuracy and adventure that dominated Europe for three years. The big question is, can that success be transferred to international level where he has less time with his players, higher quality of opponent (sometimes, at least) and no Zebras or Cardiff to fill your boots against. But we will say this with confidence – he has a track record that is superior to Philip Saint-Andre, Stuart Lancaster, Jacques Brunel and Scott Johnson. And in time, he might have one better than Gatty as well

If Gerry’s “guess” at Sunday’s team is correct, and it ususally is – with the glaring exception of RWC11, when Fangio got Uncle Deccie’s exclusives – one thing more than any stands out, that the days of the same XV starting every game are behind us. Competition for places is here, and this week’s beneficiaries are Matinee Idol Andrew Trimble and Luke ‘Bamm-Bamm’ Marshall. The infamous Monday Morning Huddle-Ups will doubtless mean bigger names than Ferg and Dorce will be disappointed over the course of the next six weeks. This is Ireland like we haven’t known them in a long time.

The fixtures are generous to Ireland as well – a gentle beginning at home to Scotland, followed by a date everyone has ringed in the calendar for months – a chance to beat those pesky Welsh. Ireland lost to Scotland last year after a comedy of errors, and, despite last year’s win, probably still feel they owe the Welsh one – particularly after that happened between that listing legend and that taciturn Kiwi in the summer.

Ireland’s major problems have been gameplan, accuracy, consistency and selection. Our attacking has been anaemic for many years now, our error count off the charts [rumble for 1m, rumble for 0.5m, three drifting sideways passes for -2m, rumble – knock on], and injury was our best selector. The new coaching ticket showed signs of creeping accuracy in November, and the days of picking the same XV for every game are in the past. If we can develop that elusive consistency and a coherent attacking strategy, you feel Ireland will go from perennial third-placers (excepting that blip of last year) to something better.

It’s important that Ireland establish a base level of performance on days when they don’t have waves of emotion on which to draw.  They can’t be expected to play as well as against New Zealand, but it’s important the performance level doesn’t falll off a cliff-face as soon as we’re favourite to win a match.

If Ireland do start with two wins, they’ll have the Big Mo, and that can be crucial in this tournament. If they win two, they can win another two – Italy are a gimme, then England look strong but unimaginative and France are a coin toss. With some confidence and coherence, we are surely capable of winning one of them. All of which might just put us in the mix.  But to flip it over: lose to Wales and suddenly Twickenham looks a daunting trip and we’re staring down being one from three and becoming grumpy and despondent.  So much hinges on that Wales game in the second round.  The hell with accuracy, let’s get emotional!  Jamie and BOD: give Wazza hell!

Schmidt has publicly stated that sure aren’t we lucky to have both Rog and Johnny second place is his minimum requirement, and four wins are typically required to get it. We aren’t sure if we are there yet, but we expect to see a tight, accurate and ruthless team by St Patrick’s Day. With a foundation in place for RWC15.

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  1. “… it’s important the performance level doesn’t falll off a cliff-face as soon as we’re favourite to win a match”. Couldn’t have put it better, WoC. That must be the bottom line. The constant interchange between one off world-beating performances followed by massive disappointments – both of which feed off each other – must end here. JS to be the man that does it!!!

  2. Leinsterlion

     /  January 31, 2014

    Its ironic, that in the set in stone( team selection) days of EOS and DK, having the same team, reams of caps etc couldnt give us consistency. Yet with more change, possible home/away selections we are building greater depth and (hopefully)building towards that all elusive consistency. That said, terrible against OZ, good for a half against Un-zee is hardly an indicator we are going to change the “Irish mindset” overnight.

  3. Len

     /  January 31, 2014

    I expect JS to fix Ireland. I don’t expect this to be a quick fix. I think the players now know there’s no such thing as a guaranteed starter at national level and while our depth in some positions is still a bit shallow it’s improving. What I’d like to see (apart from Ireland mashing all around them) is poor performance by any player being rewarded by second place or third in the case of our bench being promoted and for this to be universal across the team. As a Leinster fan I bemoaned the fact that previous coaches lacked the ruthless edge to do this (think Decci and TOL or EOS and Easterby). JS has that edge and isn’t afraid to use it and if that means less Leinster players in the team then so be it. The good of Ireland out ways the good of the provence.

    • ehhweasel

       /  January 31, 2014

      Yeah but is Dave Kearney really the answer?

      • Jimbob

         /  January 31, 2014

        Neither wingers selected fro Sunday are particularly inspiring but look at the injury and form profiles at the moment and currently, yes DK is the best fully fit winger we have. When fit and on form I’d say Bowe, Zebo, Earls, Fitzgerald, Gilroy and McFadden are all ahead of him. Anyway, isn’t JS trying to build a squad of 30+ players to fit into the test squad as and when they’re needed?

  4. Interesting to make a verdict before a ball’s been kicked in anger. Good article though lads!

    The two main things are consistency and selection, which obviously go hand-in-hand. As you said, njury driven selection can’t be the norm, and I think it goes a long way to creating an environment where no player (other than Darren Cave :P) will feel he can’t get into the matchday squad. The selection of Trimble to front up against Lamont is a perfect example of this.

    I think one thing that Joe has built (somewhat undeservingly since he’s so fresh in the job) is trust from both the players and the fans in terms of his medium-long term strategies and goals. The top two/home sweep target is a perfect example of this. Ireland aren’t just “going out to win the next game”, they’re looking to improve, whilst not in the Scotland vein of “hey we’ll win the next World Cup, just sayin'”. You can see the journey that Joe is envisaging, which’ll hopefully build the consistency side of things.

    • Len

       /  January 31, 2014

      I think the reason the fans and players have responded is the Joe seems more open about the goals he’s setting. I always felt with the previous coaches that the right hand didn’t know what the left was doing and we always seemed to be focused on anything further than the next match.

  5. Trimble looks like a selection based on (lack of) availability. We’ve five wingers out injured, all ahead of him, while Ferg isn’t long back, so maybe that’s why he’s benching. All told, AT is probably eighth pick.

    If only tighthead had such depth!

    “Ireland’s major problems have been gameplan, accuracy, consistency and selection.”

    Pretty much everything then.

  6. Hansie Macdermot

     /  January 31, 2014

    Three wins are the maximum that I foresee.
    The absence of SOB and Ryan will make it very difficult against England and France,
    Also, the mental burden of so many successive failures in Paris is almost on the same level
    as facing BNZ.
    I think that Lancaster looks like he is picking some dangerous backs in the England side
    and if he drops Owen Farrell then they can win 4 games (not tomorrow night).
    I cannot see France winning in Cardiff so it may be 4 wins for them as well.

    Looks like a sensible JS selection, I suppose Toner there is ensure our own lineout
    is secure against Jim Hamilton but I would like to see Touhy get at least 30 minutes.

    Hope that Marshall has a stormer and ends the debate about one of the centre positions.
    On the wings, If Bowe, Zebo or Fitz were fully fit, then 2 would start and the other would be on the bench.

    My abiding memory of McF is of him being flattened by a Welsh back, probably JD ?
    in the 2011 world cup match resulting in a Welsh try.

    Scotland will put up a fight for sure and I would be happy with a winning margin o 6-10.

    Good Luck Ireland.

    • Amiga500

       /  January 31, 2014

      The absence of SOB yes, currently the best player in Europe.

      The absence of DR not so much. He’s a good lock forward, but nothing more than that. Dan Tuohy would do much the same job if given the chance.

      • Amiga500

         /  January 31, 2014

        Well…. not currently I suppose ‘cos he is injured but you get the idea….

    • Ferg wasn’t on the pitch for that game. He got speed bumped by George North in the 2012 6N though!

  7. hulkinator

     /  January 31, 2014

    I think Ireland can and will win the 6 nations. If Wales can win it 2 years in a row Ireland certainly can.

    Competition for places has finally arrived! I think this will drive Irish rugby forward and we have depth now too so injuries won’t cripple the team as much as before. Schmidt, like Gatland has proven himself to be a shrewd coach and a winning coach.

    Its a travesty that Ireland have only one 6 nations win while having such a comeptitive side all these years. EOS lacked that extra 5% to get Ireland over the line on many occasions. As a Munster fan I thought Kidney was a little out of his depth but thats been argued and done to death. Schmidt is a breath of fresh air that Ireland needed and looking at underage structures its onwards and upwards for Irish rugby..

  8. Hansie Macdermot

     /  January 31, 2014

    My earlier comment that McFadden was flattened in the 2011 World Cup v Wales was
    incorrect. Apologies.
    D’arcy was flattened by Roberts instead – result Welsh try in the corner.

    McFadden was flattened at the Aviva in 2012 by George North I think – result Welsh try.

    • Amiga500

       /  January 31, 2014

      Both times the result of smaller men utlising a drift defence against massive runners coming from deep.

      A tactical masterstroke….

      • Bueller

         /  February 3, 2014

        Ya Kidney should have asked wales to be less massive!

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