Georgia – that sounds familiar

Yawn. Isn’t this uncomfortable – an Irish series without people having anything to argue about. Even the Thornley Gazette tried to start a pointless argument with its inane click-bait Top 50 nonsense, but it didn’t work. The selection debates for the game are either for fringe RWC players or simply to try out new players and combinations – we’ll post on those when the team is out tomorrow.

But, to remind people what we are actually facing, we are going to re-blog a piece we did a few years ago on the last time Ireland played Georgia – it was part of a series on particular games Ireland played in the professional era. Swallow hard, chaps, here we go:

 

The Game: Ireland 14-10 Georgia, 15 September 2007

What it Defined: the decline of the Eddie O’Sullivan era and the 2007 World Cup catastrophe

The State of Play

Ireland are travelling to the world cup in rude health, with a fully fit squad and sky-high expectations.  In short, Irish rugby has never had it so good.  The team is settled and the age profile of the team is optimal, with all its key leaders in the 25-29 bracket.  They have played a lot of very good rugby over the previous twelve months.  In the November internationals they reach new peaks, comfortably beating South Africa and Australia and thrashing the Pacific Islands.  The Six Nations is thrilling, heartbreaking, but ultimately encouraging.  Ireland lose it on points difference to France, but most commentators agree Ireland are the best team in Europe.

Huge credit is given to (and lapped up by) their one-man-band of a coach, Eddie O’Sullivan.  Uninterested in delegating and something of a control freak, he has full control of all elements of the team.  Perhaps his greatest accomplishment is the conditioning of the players, which has seen Ireland shed its long-held reputation as a 60-minute team.  Much is made of their visits to the cryotherapy chambers in Spala, Poland, where the players sit in sub-sub-zero temperatures for short periods of time, which improves the recovery speed of the muscles.  When a bunch of photographs of the players messing on the beach goes viral, the nation marvels at these specimens; tanned and toned, muscles rippling.  To reflect the coach’s achievements he is handed a four-year contract before the World Cup has even begun.

But there are a couple of problems looming, though nobody is overly concerned yet.  After the Six Nations, both Munster and Leinster limp out of the Heineken Cup in the quarter finals.  It means it’s a long time without high-intensity matches.  The summer tour to Argentina sees Ireland lose twice, and draws clear lines of demarcation between the first XV, “Eddie’s Untouchables”, who don’t travel and the rest of the squad, the tackle-bag holders, who do. The tour was ominous – granted, the first XV weren’t there, but the ease with which Argentina dispatched Ireland was a worry.

And Ireland’s pre-tournament preparation did not go well.  They’ve played poorly, losing to Scotland and only beating Italy in Ravenhill thanks to a highly dubious last-minute try.  The idea of playing a club side, Bayonne, once in camp in France, backfires, with the locals delighting in the role of hired hands set out to soften the opposition up for the main fight with France.  O’Driscoll is punched off the ball and leaves the match with a fractured cheekbone.  Eddie’s squad is rather lopsided, with a wealth of blindsides, but no specialised cover at 7 or 8.

The first game of the tournament sees Ireland play badly against Namibia, the tournament’s lowest ranked side. Eddie picked his Untouchables, with a view to playing them into form – they win 32-17, but it’s an inauspicious start – France and Argentina would put 150 points on the Namibians collectively, yet Ireland actually lost the second half 14-12.

Now the alarm bells were ringing – it was Georgia next, and any opportunity to play some of the dirt-trackers was gone as the imperative was to get the first XV back to life. This was the last opportunity before the real games come, against hosts France, and a fired-up Argentina side which has blown the tournament open by beating France in the opening game.

The Game

The first half is a pedestrian affair.  Ireland get a try, through Rory Best, but David Wallace is sent to the sin-bin and Georgia score the resulting penalty to trail 7-3 at half-time.  Then things go pear-shaped.  Peter Stringer throws a floaty pass towards O’Driscoll, and it’s intercepted for a try.  The body language between O’Driscoll and Stringer as the try is scored is not indicative of a team which is enjoying its rugby.  Girvan Dempsey replies with a try in the corner, which Ronan O’Gara converts to give Ireland a 14-10 lead.  But they cannot put the Georgians away, and as the game enters the last ten minutes it is the minnows who are piling on the pressure.  Winning the physical battle, they pick, drive and maul their way towards the line.  Indeed, they get over the whitewash, but Denis Leamy’s body is under the ball, and Ireland breathe again.

Ireland win 14-10, but it is the closest any established nation has come to such humiliation – had the Georgians showed a bit more poise and not attempted a swathe of miracle drop goals in the second half, the victory was there for the taking.  Ireland’s form is now beyond crisis point.  They have also failed to secure a bonus point, meaning if they lose to France and beat Argentina they could still go out.  The tournament is shaping up to be a disaster – Ireland appear poorly conditioned (but how, when they looked so good?) and Eddie has been forced to stick rigidly to his first team in an effort to play them in to something approaching form, but it hasn’t happened.

This half of WoC (Palla) remembers watching the game through his fingers.  With flights booked to Paris for the following week, it simply didn’t bear thinking about that the long awaited trip could be to see two dead rubbers in the French capital.

The Aftermath

The rest of the World Cup panned out with the inevitability of an unfolding horror story.  Ireland did up their game to an extent against France, but ran out 25-3 losers, two classic poacher’s tries by – who else? – Vincent Clerc enabling the hosts to pull away on the scoreboard.  It left Ireland needing not only to beat Argentina, but win by more than seven and score four tries in the process.  It never looked like happening, and Argentina dominated the match, winning 30-15.  In the first half, when David Wallace, of all people, was gang tackled and driven back 20 metres, it was clear the jig was up.  Juan Martin Hernandez was the game’s dominant figure, dropping three goals with all the fuss of someone buying a pint of milk.

Ireland went home humiliated, having entered the tournament as one of the favourites.  It was an astonishing fall from grace.  What had gone wrong?  Any number of theories were put forward, with the rumour mill going into overdrive.  Ronan O’Gara – having played with all the conviction of a man struggling to remember if he’d left the iron on at home – was having personal problems.  Geordan Murphy had packed his bags after being dropped from the bench for the French game.  Brian O’Driscoll and Peter Stringer had come to blows after the Georgia game.  It went on and on, and was very ugly – the intrusion into certain players lives was completely unnecessary, and quite shocking.

Other reasons with more foundation were offered up.  What was clear was that the players were poorly conditioned for test rugby.  Sure, they looked great on the beach, but they weren’t battle hardened.  The preparation was flawed, and once the team started underperforming, Eddie was unwilling to change the team – save for Peter Stringer, who became something of a fall guy.  The players were miserable in a poor choice of hotel in Bordeaux and became bored and irritable.

Frankie Sheahan offered an interesting nugget in a recent Sunday Times article: he felt the coaches had become too concerned with player statistics.  Certain players were being absolved from blame for particular outcomes because they had hit so many rucks, or made so many tackles.  He felt it contributed to an ‘I’m alright, Jack’ mentality within the squad.  When he talked to Rodrigo Roncero at the post-match dinner, Frankie asked him if the Argentina camp had relied on individual performance statistics.  ‘No’, Rodrigo replied, ‘we don’t care how many tackles a player makes, whether it’s 1 or 100, so long as somebody makes the tackle when it has to be made’.  It spoke of a coach whose philosophy had reached its sell-by date.

The strangest thing was that when the players returned to their provinces, the majority found their form again quickly.  Ronan O’Gara went back to Munster and immediately played as well as he had ever done.  Indeed, he piloted them to the Heineken Cup that year, while Leinster won the Magners League.  The players themselves were at a loss to explain it all.  Shane Horgan recently recalled irate fans demanding answers as to why they had been so poor, and his thoughts were: ‘You want answers?  I’m the one who wants answers!’

Eddie had one more Six Nations to put things right, but by now he was a busted flush.  He belatedly and reluctantly let a bang-in-form Jamie Heaslip have a game, and was rewarded with a performance (but no victory) in Paris, but the final two games saw Ireland lose at home to Wales and get thrashed by a Danny Cipriani-inspired England.

Eddie did the decent thing and resigned, leaving the team at a pretty low ebb.  There was only one choice of replacement: the man who had led Munster to two Heineken Cups in three years, and a coach his polar opposite in almost every way: Declan Kidney. The players were crying out for a new approach, and they were going to get one.

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38 Comments

  1. Ireland's Answer (allthingsrugby1)

     /  November 13, 2014

    Is the first line in the last paragraph a dig at Declan Kidney? Ohhh some one wants some inter provincial bickering 🙂

  2. It took me six years to muster up the courage to watch the Ireland Argentina match on youtube….it will take me another 20 to watch the match against Georgia!

  3. I was at the Ireland v Georgia game in Bordeaux and remember thinking that if Georgia got that try to win the game, they would have absolutely deserved it. The French crowd were all supporting the Georgians and were absolutely loving it.

    The 2011 RWC was discussed a bit in last night’s Off the Ball. Dennis Hickey echoed the “what is happening to us?” point mentioned in the article. BOD referred the team not playing enough games beforehand and the desire to keep players wrapped in cotton wool backfiring. Stephen Ferris was a bit more forthright – he didn’t play a minute for the entire tournament and was part of what he referred to as “the Bordeaux four” who were similarly unemployed. He referenced the first choice squad vs the rest attitude in the camp and EOS’s position was basically that the rest may get a chance if someone gets injured rather than form having anything to do with it.

    • ….oops, I should have referred to 2007 RWC obviously….

      • part time punk

         /  November 13, 2014

        Had forgotten that Ferris didn’t play at all, that makes me sad to think that he only played in one world cup

  4. ooooh! – when can we have part two, the Declan Kidney years?

  5. Yossarian

     /  November 13, 2014

    “Eddie did the decent thing and resigned” with a handsome pay out for the 4 years left on the contract! This brings back all the horror of that World Cup. Tony Ward still lamenting how Eddie can’t get a job in this country. remember hearing about a training session where he stood in the middle with a stop watch while the assistant coaches ran various drills blowing his whistle to let them know to move on to the next drill! The way he played the politics on gatland to get the job. my God all the old hate is bubbling up again.

    • curates_egg

       /  November 13, 2014

      Most successful coach of the professional era in terms of results (until the present coach anyway).

    • I do love the way Ward (and the Indo folks in general) forget that in Eddie’s case it’s twice bitten thrice shy for the IRFU: EOS walked out on Connacht in the 90s the day before they flew to Sweden for a conditioning camp.

      Now of course there is a valid argument that just as the IRFU should never have given Eddie a 4 year contract, this first falling out was also their fault: O’Sullivan was on leave of absence from his day job and the union were dragging out contract talks (only took them the guts of 2 decades and Jonny Sexton calling their bluff to learn their lesson, eh?). But then the Indo would never let nuance get in the way of an emotive headline.

  6. curates_egg

     /  November 13, 2014

    That game was definitely the nadir…but at least the wine was good.
    The one world cup I picked to actually follow the team in all games.
    Watching BOD stop playing to berate Stringer is a moment that really stands out.

  7. ruckinhell

     /  November 13, 2014

    Don’t forget ROG’s gambling debts, Leamy’s diabetes and a whole other host of madcap theories and respouted bollocks.

    Let’s hope Ireland learn from the last two tournaments. EOS had a team that was overtrained with a clear hierarchy and little room for form or on field invention. Kidney had a seemingly happy squad but there was a bizarre lack of logic in his player selection at times (pick ROG to run at the gainline against Wales!!!) and his gameplan was easily sussed out (give it to SOB, Ferris and Heaslip and they’ll do the trick). Hopefully Schmidt can marry the best of the two approaches and we’ll have a happy, well coached team where players who are on form are selected to get the job done with the right gameplan but enough freedom to do the right thing at the right time if it’s on. Thankfully, that previous sentence seems to be the Schmidt template based on evidence to date!

    • seiko

       /  November 13, 2014

      You forgotten Sexton’s kicking stats? Kidney couldn’t start an outhalf against Wales (of all teams) with a 40% success rate from the tee.

      • ruckinhell

         /  November 14, 2014

        You forgetting how many times ROG ran at a Welsh defensive line that spat him up and chewed him out (sans ball)? My issue wasn’t the selection of ROG per se, it was selecting him to adhere to a gameplan that he was physically unable to implement.

        • seiko

           /  November 14, 2014

          No I’m not forgetting how Wales liked to target ROG. But he still had a decent enough win record against them – certainly better than Sexton.

          At the end of the day, Kidney was between a rock and a hard place. Sexton’s place kicking was terrible or ROG being targetted by the Welsh backrow, though the Ireland backrow were neutralised.

          Sexton was on for at least 30 minutes and he made no difference and it is fair to say that Ireland clung to the win against Australia with defence.

          • The selection and gameplan going into that match Wales was pretty lamentable. Sexton came on in the second half with Reddan and while he had little impact, that’s not to say it might have been different had he started.

            But as seiko says, part of the problem wsa that Ireland’s gameplan didn’t really have any flexibility and was based around O’Brien and Ferris trucking it up, but Lydiate and Warburton were ready for it.

  8. Mary Hinge

     /  November 13, 2014

    Team for Saturday folks?

    1. McGrath. 2. Strauss. 3. Ross. 4. Toner. 5. McCarthy. 6. Ruddock. 7. O’Donnell. 8. Heaslip.
    9. Reddan. 10. Madigan. 11. Zebo. 12. Henshaw. 13. D’Arcy. 14. Gilroy. 15. Jones.

    16. Cronin. 17. Kilcoyne. 18. Ah You. 19. D Foley. 20. Copeland. 21. Marmion. 22. Keatley. 23. Leader.

    • Personally I’d swap Reddan (who doesn’t really need to prove anything) with Marmion (who does), *maybe* Copeland for Heaslip, and have Olding in over one of the centres. Otherwise looks good though!

    • D6W

       /  November 13, 2014

      I would give Ross a rest, and let Rodney Ah You carry the load this weekend. I would also start Foley instead of Toner. I would give Marmion a run instead of Reddon. But Gilroy, really? Have to give Bowe another runout before Australia.

      • SportingBench

         /  November 13, 2014

        I know you can’t have too many changes or it lessens the value of the run out but I would like to see someone other than Heaslip at 8. We have another key man risk there

    • Heaslip needs a rest, he has played most games this season for Leinster. Start Copeland, with Ryan on the bench. Olding should at least get a bench spot as cover for centre and fullback.

      • I thought I read that Ryan had sort of been promised this one prior to the South Africa game, no? A back row of ruddock o’donnell and Ryan or copeland- would help grow a few more options and would give a few breathers.

    • Mary Hinge

       /  November 14, 2014

      Well I got 10 of the 15 starters right (incl D’Arcy at 13 instead of 12) and 5 of the 8 on the bench. Disappointed with that, but who could have predicted Cave and Diack starting?

  9. Lop12

     /  November 13, 2014

    BOD & ROG both quite generous to Eddie in their recent books I thought. odd considering how badly his tenure ended; gap in public perception and reality?

    • D6W

       /  November 13, 2014

      BOD didn’t have a bad word to say about anyone, and deftly side-stepped any controversy of Irish rugby in his time!

    • Hairy Naomh Mhuire

       /  November 13, 2014

      So ROG & BOD should base their assessment of O’Sullivan’s reign on how it ended? Taking a balanced assessment of his Ireland career overall is ‘odd’?
      You are far from alone in this opinion but I struggle to understand why assessments of his time with Ireland tend to focus so much on this RWC. As Whiff points out above in relation to even the 12 months preceding it:
      ‘..played a lot of very good rugby over the previous twelve months…November internationals they reach new peaks, comfortably beating South Africa and Australia and thrashing the Pacific Islands…The Six Nations is thrilling, heart-breaking, but ultimately encouraging….most commentators agree Ireland are the best team in Europe.’
      Consider his 6N record against all teams bar France.
      He’s no Joe Schmidt & of course he had his faults (plus he is the ultimate ‘bad face’ coach) but my recollection of his reign is that I was finally going to Ireland matches in expectation rather than hope – and the team generally met those expectations. I’d be very surprised if BOD & ROG were not pretty generous towards him.

      • Yossarian

         /  November 13, 2014

        Didn’t Eddie really push for the plate thing for Triple crowns?before that it was just a title but no silverware. The ultimate in spin. Triple crowns when we should have had championships-as proved in Kidneys first year.
        also calling Liam Hennessy “Dr. Liam Hennessy” all the time. The guy had a PhD in sports science yes but they portrayed him as an MD a lot of the time.

        • Amiga500

           /  November 14, 2014

          Well, technically, that is the right way to address it.

          If you’ve an MD, then it should be Liam Hennessy MD. [I suppose some would say Dr. Liam Hennessy MD – but really that should be for medical doctors who have done PhDs, of which I know a couple of fellas.]

          If you’ve a PhD, then its Dr Liam Hennessy.

    • Leinsterlion

       /  November 13, 2014

      Considering they were part of his “untouchables”, I don’t see why they would.

  10. My memories were of making plenty of decent breaks, but every time they were trying difficult offloads and feeling like we should score off first phase against these guys even when it really wasn’t on. Georgia disrupted the offloads and by the end would have absolutely deserved the win. The same mistake won’t happen this time I’d imagine.

  11. Leinsterlion

     /  November 13, 2014

    The one thing that rankles about the 07 debacle is the fact McGurn was thrown under a bus and blamed for the players not “being match conditioned”, McGurns job was to get the players ready physically, he did that. To say they lost in any way because of” Spala”, or “beach muscles”, is just buying into the spin from eddies mates in the media.

    • Fair point-wales went to spala a few times and did ok out of it. There was definitely a bad scar made on the psyche of supporters (and it sounds players too) during that rwc. It led to a bit of hysteria when anyone suggested preparing in any way similar to that event again and damaged the reputations of a number of people.

      O’Connell talked recently about Schmidt challenging the forwards to get bigger, I remember Healy being encouraged similarly a few years ago and then he himself chose to drop a weight division again to benefit his all round game. McCarthy looks like he was instructed on joining leinster to bulk up, McGrath clearly already has. Is it unrealistic to suggest a hangover/backlash to 2007 that this is the case? Or is it just a symptom of the absence of s and c head honcho for some time?

      People also over react the other way I think. If I had a euro or pound for the number of times I’ve heard “If you want to win the World Cup you have to be beating the Southern Hemisphere teams, like England in 03.” It’s nice to have that in the bank, but I don’t see how it’s truly a pre-requisite. No matter how this November finishes up and no matter how woeful or brilliant either side are, France will be a huge and difficult game.

  12. BOD’s autobiography was awful, without a bad word to say on anything or anyone. I’m not saying that controversy = quality in a sports autobiography but it really was a waste of time. BOD was clearly keeping a lid on his feelings Re The Kidney era as you could see by the end how frustrated he had become, making (justified) comments in the media on how the coaching tickets roles had become muddled, and deserving a red card for that stamp against Italy. I highly recommend Geordan Murphy’s autobiography, it provides a fantastic insight into both RWC ’07 and ’11, and the EOS era overall, as well as being a very good book overall.

    • Hairy Naomh Mhuire

       /  November 14, 2014

      Thanks for the steer. Christmas reading plans duly amended!

  13. Seanio

     /  November 14, 2014

    I remember reading in Jake White’s autobiography that he was very keen to bring the Springboks to Spala prior to the 2007 World Cup but was overruled by Dr. Tim Noakes, who advised that the benefits of cryotherapy are unproven and to him, the volume of training undertaken in Poland would be counter-productive in view of the work load at the world cup, and the cumulative amount of games the first choice players had played over the proceeding 2-3 years.
    Apparently, he advised that the first choice players be rested for the Tri-Nations in 2007, which indeed came to pass (and caused some furore in Australa and New Zeland at the time about the Springboks sending an understrength team).
    On another note, I agree with Hairy Naomh Mhuire’s point about Eddie O’Sullivan. There is a lot of revisionism now whenever his tenure is assessed, but there was not many grumbles before the 2007 World Cup about he was handling matters- it’s very easy to be a Monday morning quarterback. Sure, he had his faults, but I think indeed there is nothing odd about assessing his tenure over the whole term, rather than the final denoument.

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