Happiness Index

Ireland have beaten France by 18-11 to move a step-closer to a possible tournament decider with England. Beaten! France! Tournament decider! Grand Slam Fever! Ireland never beat France, so doing so should be a cause of unbridled celebrations, right? So why has the reaction to the victory been so muted? Shouldn’t we all be much happier?

The answer is fairly straightforward: because Ireland didn’t play particularly well. This is a hopeless French team, badly coached by Phillipe Saint-Andre and they were there for the taking. Ireland conjured not one single line break in the match, and indeed in the final 25 minutes found themselves almost totally on the back foot. It was hard to escape the feeling that had France started with Morgan Parra at 9 and maybe some of the front five reserves they brought on it could all have been very different. Ireland had been expected to win the match all week; they did so, but without any tries, or even a single decent attack, and they were hanging on a bit at the end. At the final whistle it was a feeling of sheer relief more than anything else.

Paul O’Connell pretty much nailed it in his post-match press conference. Ireland were in total control, had the French where they wanted them, but kept releasing the pressure valve. Popey’s favourite adage about giving a sucker an even break sprang to mind. Ireland simply didn’t execute. Paulie was frustrated.

Ireland are two from two, so it feels a bit churlish to start moaning, but they haven’t really played any rugby yet, and they will have to do so to beat England and Wales. One interesting facet of the post-match hullabaloo was a marked difference in how various punters thought Peter O’Mahony had played. The Munster flanker tends to divide opinion, so it’s not exactly a new thing, but there were those (us among them) who had him down as a man of the match contender, and others who felt he went missing in action. Sure, he posted another low tackle count, but he appeared to be very prominent around the pitch, in the second half at least.

But whatever you make of O’Mahony, one thing’s for sure: the chap can play a bit. In this game he fired one of the game’s best passes from first receiver out to the wing late in the first half. A pass! To a wing! Sounds a bit fancy, and this from a Munster man and everything. Has he no shame?  He also kicked the ball with the outside of his foot in the second half. Not many forwards can do that! Indeed, he’s not the only Irish forward who is comfortable distributing the ball. One of Matt O’Connor’s more effective tactical wrinkles this season has been his use of Devin Toner as a distributor, to the extent that Stuart Barnes has declared Toner the new Brodie Retallick. Jamie Heaslip has many talents, but not least among them is his ball-handling abilty, which is first rate.

But alas, we haven’t really seen any of that from Ireland so far, and there has been very little linking between backs and forwards as a result. The days of Ireland putting out eight donkeys in the pack who can only run over or into things is over, so perhaps it’s time to let them play a bit. And while we’re at it, what about getting the two centres to pass the ball just once or twice? You never know, it just might work.

At least we can all rest assured that the players and management will be keenly aware of all this. Schmidt has already identified that England’s win in Wales is far and above anything Ireland have put together so far, so the improvement will be required. Jonny Sexton will have another match under his belt in the meantime; so will Sean O’Brien and Cian Healy. It’s time to give it a lash.

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  1. I was lucky enough to be at the game and can say that feeling very underwhelmed by watching us beat France without much bother is an entirely confusing state.

    But you’re right, France are brutal, in every sense, and while we’ve won both games this tournament we’ve really not shown very much. Paulie’s interview said it all, really. Play like that again and England will beat us.

  2. If O’Mahony divides opinion maybe it’s because he’s a decision maker where (with all due respect to the physical and moral strengths of Easterby and Ferris) we haven’t had one.

    The RTE commentators had a right go at him for not passing wide when he “kicked the ball with the outside of his foot” but from where we were sat it looked like Huget was steaming up to attempt an interception and the kick was absolutely the right option.

    I’m not POM’s greatest fan but I thought he had a fine game.

    • D6W

       /  February 16, 2015

      To be fair to RTE, when Shane and Ryle saw the replay they changed their minds and said it was the right option. I also have not been a big fan of POM in past, (sometimes think he talks much tougher than he walks), but no doubt he had a great game this weekend. New David Wallace?

      Speaking of RTE, they iflashed up a stat re pack weights that indicated the Irish starting pack was 40Kg heavier that the French pack. Can that really have been true? It goes completely against tradition, but worryingly, that big a weight difference would normally give a scrum dominence, which Ireland did not have.

      • This is accurate, we were 4 kg a man – 3/4 of a stone – heavier than the Italian pack also. So the French came looking for a gunfight while armed with peashooters, which says all ther is to say about their coaching staff.

        On a related note, this nonsense about everyone else being bigger than Ireland is getting a bit tiresome. Now that the facts give the lie to this old saw you have Triminjus going on about “the siz… the *power* of the pack”.

        Ross, McGrath and Toner are giants. Heaslip may not be the biggest 8 in the competition, but he’s bigger than Chouly and Faletau and truly dwarfs Parrisse, who is no bigger than our centres. O’Brien is a beast. Likewise Henderson.

        If the scrum is consistently in trouble it might have something to do with our tight-head prop and lock being in their mid-thirties with a lot of mileage on the clock, or superior technique of the opposition, or the Wayne Barnes Magic 8-ball Whistle Game. Size isn’t everything.

    • Shaggy initially barracked O’Mahony for the kick but to be fair when he saw the replay he changed his mind; as you say, Huget had closed off the option of passing to the outside channels. Was a good kick andf the right option.

  3. @CompleteBore

     /  February 16, 2015

    Well, I’m delighted with the win anyway. Throw in the cricket overnight and its another great weekend for properly run Irish sport.

    Its fairly obvious that Ireland aren’t playing great offensively, but the defense is holding up pretty well and should give England’s new-found swashbuckling backs the decent test they’ve lacked so far. Ireland are also getting very good at seeing games out. See Scotland on Sunday for a team playing well but without the ability to finish on the right end of a close result.

    Regarding the butchery of the Ireland’s only real try opportunity – I assume Payne was running a decoy line to fix at least one defender and leave the two outside him to finish it off? Because he was getting tackled even if he caught that ball with his hands rather than his face. Just seemed like the wrong option from Sexton, although he was pretty great all round.

    • Stephen

       /  February 16, 2015

      I don’t have the replay to hand, but I thought Payne was “in” if he got the pass?

      • @CompleteBore

         /  February 16, 2015

        I’m in work and don’t have it to hand either, but I’m pretty sure he was running straight into at least one tackler. And I was just listening to Keith Wood give Payne some grief for coming in rather than staying out. I’m sure it will be on Against the Head tonight to clear it up. Not a lot else to put down as highlights.

        • I agree, it was the wrong option from Sexton,
          It seemed like he looked up and sized up the wide pass but didnt back his ability, maybe due to the wide passes not going to hand earlier on and the lack of match practice.

          As for Payne the Ball was rocketed at his face from about two foot, and i also think he was about to get tackled had he held it.

        • The lads on the panel were giving Payne some heat too – I thought it was mostly on Sexton tbh.

          I am sensing a reluctance to blame Sexton. On Sunday, RADGE even said he couldn’t see out of his eye to the lads outside.

    • col

       /  February 16, 2015

      I am I the only one who straight away thought madigan would have sprayed that pass out and skipped Payne? No doubt

      • Absolutely he would, but equally Madigan might also have fired the pass hard enough to take the head of some young lad in row H. 😉

      • Xyz

         /  February 16, 2015

        Funnily enough I said the same thing when I was watching it. Madigan may not be the complete OH but he does a very good skip pass. Still not sure that a skip pass wouldn’t end up being intercepted in that play.

  4. Rava

     /  February 16, 2015

    We seem to be of the opinion that we will win every game if we pin the opposition in their own half, something we have done pretty well in the last couple of games tbf. However the idea that the opposition won’t score if we achieve that aim will get blown away if Jonathan Joseph, Stuart Hogg and Rees Webb have anything to do with it.

  5. Hookdreams

     /  February 16, 2015

    The scrum is still a big issue I think which England will definitely look to exploit. Think this is the most creative England back line in a long time capable of making line breaks, France backs were embarrassing at times particularly their passing. Will be interesting to see who plays 8.

  6. I think highly of Stuart Lancaster, think it however amusing, that it was England’s “injury crisis” which did for the Owen Farrell option and finally allowed the charioteers to get their back line going. Ford and Joseph, England’s stand-out players thus far this campaign, might otherwise not have gotten a look-in. Re Ireland all I can say is buíochas le Dia SO’B is back 100%, if Heaslip’s out for the next couple of weeks with a cracked vertebra. I hope the citing commission come down hard on Pape for the kneejob on Jamie. Such behaviour on the pitch cannot be tolerated.

    • connachtexile

       /  February 16, 2015

      I think Joesph and Watson are incredible backs Brown too obviously but how bad is May? I can definitely see us targeting him during the England game.

      • May is very hot and cold. In anything other than open fields he seems worse than useless, but with some space in front of him where he knows he doesn’t have to do anything except run forward he’s awfully dangerous, which he showed for one of Joseph’s (doesn’t anyone know that the real JJ is from Munster?) tries.

      • If Brown was out and they had to play a back 3 that included May and Goode it would probably be a dream for Joe.

    • Agreed, I think Lancaster’s main failing is that he is much too loyal to a player once he starts picking him. I’m sure he feels a little sheepish for answering “Manu” to the question of what England were missing at the end of the Autumn series.

      Also the sight of Farrell hobbling up the Twickenham stands in crutches gave a good chuckle. How the perceived mighty have fallen.

  7. connachtexile

     /  February 16, 2015

    I take your point about not passing but Payne was incredible throughout the game with his defence and if Sexton hadn’t flung the ball at top speed at his face we might have gotten a try. Henshaw was super physical around the park to.
    This is only these two guys third game playing together and both are playing out of position from where they play week in week out. It’s going to take a while for them to click. A few more games and I think we’ll see a dynamic attacking pair begin to unfold.

    • There’s no question the two lads put up an incredible shift in defence. 30 tackles between them, remarkable! I can only hope you’re right about the attack, but it looks like they’re using Henshaw as a battering ram.

      • connachtexile

         /  February 16, 2015

        Agree with the Henshaw battering ram role. Will be interesting to see if that changes now he has Healy and SOB back in place who can break the gainline for him.

  8. andrew097

     /  February 16, 2015

    The Pom hype continues unashamedly why do monster heads feel they need to tell us all the time why he is ” mighty” are they trying to convince themselves.
    Can Barnes consider himself as impartial when reffing Ireland at this stage. Another tight game where his closing minuets performance is littered with very soft decisions for France. Pluse I remember him going straight to red for a knee. Oh that was Jamie kneeing McCraw.

    • Donal

       /  February 16, 2015

      I don’t think the POM “hype” is entirely Munster led. Neither of the WoC lads are Munster, nor am I, but we still all think he played well.
      What may be true is that he looks like a better performer while viewing a game as his lack of grunt work isn’t shown. He doesn’t hit a lot of rucks or make a lot of tackles. Everything he does tends to be tidy and has a positive impact but for a light guy his work rate maybe isn’t where it should be. Anyone who thinks he shouldn’t be starting for this Ireland team though may not be be realistic, in a post Ferris world he is a bolted on starter for the mo,

    • Xyz

       /  February 16, 2015

      Barnes’ performance was a lottery all day. I played the game of “what did he give that for” and frequently gave the penalty to the wrong side. He had a horrible day in the middle, not just against Ireland.

    • I think that Jamie’s knee made a marginal contact with McCheat’s head. Therefore it looked
      worse than Pape’s to Jamie’s lower back.
      Barnes has given some poor calls against all teams – just ask BNZ about the 2007 wc match against France.
      But is he worse than Steve Walsh or Ramon Poite ?.

  9. I thought we played a fair bit more than last week for sure, but the French defense was pretty ridiculous, especially in how quick they were to the breakdowns (you’d have been forgiven for thinking Steffon Armitage had lined out for France after all).

    While I thought the centre partnership were good, and probably should continue for the next couple of matches, they didn’t click as much as you’d hope in attack. I thought the studio pundits did Sexton and Payne a disservice by not mentioning the fact that Payne took a pretty unsympathetic pass to the face when a pop would in all likelihood have had him in for a try. Defensively though it was grand as a unit. It’s probably for the best that Healy, SOB and Henderson have this week to get some extended gametime, and Rosser can take a break.

  10. Hairy Naomh Mhuire

     /  February 16, 2015

    Walked out of the game and texted a friend in Australia basically saying ‘can’t believe we’ve beaten France and I’m in very middling humour’. It’s exactly as you say, we had 60 minutes to put a poor French team away and did not do it. But as is usually the way with these things, on reflection (Jamie injury aside) it’s a pretty great position to be in two weeks out from England. Maybe I am guilty of placing too much emphasis on Joe’s alchemy but I can just imagine him being delighted to be at this point in proceedings with miles on the clock for key men and time to recover and plan. I think Ireland will improve immeasurably and I think we will see a more expansive game-plan next time out. Jamie’s injury (if confirmed) is a downer but that aside I’m very much glass half full right now.

  11. Das Waderwurst

     /  February 16, 2015

    Agree that POM sometimes flatters to deceive, but thought he had a big game on Saturday. Gritty performance all round from the team, but lack of creativity and line breaks is definitely a worry. However, if we win ugly against England in two weeks’ time I’ll not be too concerned. Ross was heroic again, but I still think he’s on borrowed time and Marty Moore should be getting game time. Can understand the reluctance to drop him though, as he’s not an ideal bench player and the ‘cliff’ might beckon.

  12. Leinsterlion

     /  February 16, 2015

    All thoughts on Ireland went out the window whilst sitting in the angelsea watching Leicester-welsh, sorry Leinster, shuffle the ball aimlessly from side to side against a piss-poor Noname Dragons side. I thought Ireland displayed a shocking lack of ambition against a crap PSA rabble, but MOC out st andre’d, st andre on sunday. A lacklustre win on sat and a horrendous loss on saturday. A poor advertisement for Irish rugby was served up over the weekend, irrespective of positive or negative points on the scoreboard and in the W and L column.

    • Leinsterlion

       /  February 16, 2015

      also, the pape citing and card was a joke, its rugby, not ballet(copyright P.deVilliers)

    • JT64

       /  February 16, 2015

      Aye I was there yesterday. Extremely poor. Thought Dave Kearney showed very well, and Fitzgerald was lively. However, we were hampered with Reid going off early and Te’o going to 12. He is seemingly incapable of passing off either hand. No offloads attempted from what I recall, although I was still feeling the effects of the previous night’s carousing so I may be incorrect.

      • I was there as well and totally agree the reffing was unbelievablly poor. Ben Whitehouse has eclipsed Ian Davies the previous leader in the race for worst ref of the season. But while some blame falls to the ref the lions share has to fall to Leinster. Our decision making especially in the first half was either stupid or arrogant or a bit of both. We gave up three to four kickable penalties in the first half instead going for lineouts which weren’t working particularly well for us. You always take your points early on and put some daylight between you and the other side. Didn’t even appear to be any discussion on the pitch.

  13. Billy

     /  February 16, 2015

    No doubt POM is a quality player. The Scrappy Doo impressions do get a bit tiresome but he’s a clever player and a better athlete than his frame suggests. Is he world-class? No. If there was a Lions Tour this year, would he make the cut? Probably not. However, the tackle count issue is hilarious and typically held up by people with little or no understanding of the game.

    Unless the rules have changed, the game is not decided by having a higher tackle count. Defences work within systems and as such is a team effort. Individual tackle counts count for little or nothing. Defence is much more than tackling; there is communication, decision-making and awareness of space. This is not under 10s – players don’t have low tackle counts because they don’t really like tackling.

    Compare and contrast Ireland’s November internationals. Jack McGrath was the top tackler versus SA while Zebo topped the tackle count against Oz. Does this mean McGrath didn’t fancy it against Oz? No – Oz just attacked very wide while SA were very narrow in their attack. Likewise, when France’s game plan seemed to be “give it to Bastareaud” is it any surprise that Henshaw and Payne had such high tackle counts?

    POM is no Dan Lydiate. If his brief was to go and sit 15m from every ruck and smash everything in that channel he’d struggle. Instead Schmidt tends to use him in wider channels where runners tend to get isolated more and he can use his excellent poaching game. If he was missing tackles he would deserve criticism but taking issue with the low tackle count just shows little understanding of how defence actually works.

    And his rip in the second half was fantastic…

    • Lop12

       /  February 16, 2015

      Id be most surprised if POM didn’t make a Lions squad if it were picked now. Most surprised indeed! The four “6s” from the competing nations are Lydiate, Harley and Haskell and POM.

      • SportingBench

         /  February 16, 2015

        Agree with all of the above. At times in the past I could see where the criticism of POM was coming from it but on Saturday he displayed that amazing knack for popping up exactly where and when something different was required.
        Timing is a much more rare and therefore important skill than simply being a tackling machine in the context of a top rugby side and Ireland are lucky to have his footballing intelligence which provide a different set of complementary abilities to our other back rows. I would find it bizarre if he wasn’t in a Lions squad even though I am sure there are games when on a horses for courses approach he might end up on the bench for both Ireland (and the Lions). And no, I’m not from Munster

      • Billy

         /  February 17, 2015

        Yes, but Wood, Lydiate, Croft, Haskell and even Brown is much more competitive. Not to mention the fact that there would be Robshaw, Warburton, Tipuric and SOB and even possibly Armitage to consider on the openside, meaning that one or two could 7s could be considered auxiliary 6s if you get me?

        Decent chance he still would make it admittedly but the competition could be stiff!

  14. Das Waderwurst

     /  February 16, 2015

    Also, don’t want to instigate a witch-hunt, but I thought Barnes was truly dreadful, particularly in the second half. Some baffling decisions around scrum time, coupled with a complete loss of bottle for the Pape incident. A blatant red card offence. He is not good enough for test level. Nigel Owens being wasted on the touch line made it all the more galling.

    • JT64

       /  February 16, 2015

      Agreed. Barnes’ consistently dreadful performances beggars belief. It is infuriating that he still deemed fit enough to referee an international game.

      • aoifehamill

         /  February 16, 2015

        I haven’t watched the game back yet (I tried on Sat evening but fell asleep – rock and roll Sat night for me!) so I can’t really comment on all Barnes’ decisions. In his favour, he is very communicative with players during the match.

        The only referee I ever hear good things said about is Nigel (apart from people swooning over Steve Walsh’s hair) and this kind of “not fit for international games” comment is bandied about on a fairly regular basis for lots of referees. I suppose part of the issue is that if a referee does a good job you barely notice it…

        I’m curious as to whom people think are the good referees (apart from Nigel). My opinion would be that everybody gets stuff wrong and so long as they are fairly consistent and have control over the game, it is good refereeing.

        By the way, I am not at all above giving out about referees! Just curious who (apart from Nigel) people would choose for Ireland v England for instance.

        • SportingBench

           /  February 16, 2015

          I actually think Steve Walsh is also pretty good these days. Wouldn’t have said that not so long ago.
          I think the issue with Barnes is that he seems to make different and at times odd decisions at pressure moments. Almost like he is trying to make a point that he won’t bottle a clutch decision so he makes a big call when a bit more composure is called for. In my experience he is pretty good in the first half and then tends to go off peak in the last 20 minutes if it is tight.
          I am of course aware of the unfortunate history and the slagging he got in 2007 when a certain team of chokers were convinced he “bottled” it (though I remember watching that NZ game at the time and thinking one forward pass aside, it wasn’t a bad reffing performance and certainly not out of kilter with the slightly defence weighted reffing at that tournament) and wonder if as a reaction to this he is determined to make big calls even there aren’t any to be made?

      • SportingBench

         /  February 16, 2015

        His rap sheet, particularly against Ireland is awful and he certainly seems to make “eccentric” decisions at pressure moments.
        However on a slightly different note it is good to see referees in this 6N penalising dominant scrums when they drive through illegally. You shouldn’t get a penalty just because you are the stronger scrum if you are wheeling or driving illegally. Also they seem to have been instructed to wave play on when a scrum goes down but the ball is playable, again good.
        All we need now is referees to start giving the put in the other way when a scrum goes down/ball doesn’t come out and they can’t tell (truthfully) who, if anyone is at fault. Or to follow Alain Rolland’s lead from a few years ago and decide if one side of the scrum is continually collapsing both props are probably at it and send them both to the bin. This will encourage teams to get the ball out quicker and return the scrum to a restart mechanism and contest for the ball rather than a slow penalty accumulator where playing the ref is as important as the ball.
        Here endth the rant.

        • Speaking of poor referees, just how bad was Glenn Jackson in the Wales Vs Scotland match? Why didn’t he use the TMO to check the knock on in the last 5 mins?! Baffling, and there were a high number of Welsh ruck clear outs that were just shoulder barges with no attempt to bind – should be penalty and probably yellow’s given how reckless and dangerous they are…

          • Das Waderwurst

             /  February 16, 2015

            Thought Jackson was ok in the early stages of the game, then seemed to lose his way. Some very strange decisions as the game wore on. The pace of test rugby and the complexity and subjectivity of some the laws make it a very difficult game to ref, so I don’t want to be overly critical, but standards do need to improve.

            Owens for me is on a different planet to everyone else, gets almost everything right, and so often seems to oversee the most free-flowing games. He is authoritative without being pedantic, and that tends to limit messing and keep the game moving. He also seems to be aware that he is there to facilitate the game, not spoil the party with whistle-happy shenanigans every chance he gets. He is the master of playing advantage.

            Apart from Nigel, Poite is at least consistent, if occasionally a little too fond of the whistle, and perhaps the sound of his own voice. I think Clancy is solid as well. As far as the SH is concerned, I think Jaco Peyper and Chris Pollock are both decent, but wouldn’t be a fan of Joubert.

            As an aside, is there another sport anyone can think of where the ref can have such a big impact on how the game is played on possibly even the result?

          • SportingBench

             /  February 16, 2015

            Yes, on that knock on, not to check was bad and also not to consider both a card and penalty try in that situations as the tackle (careless rather than cynical) caused the potential knock on and he had already penalised it as high.
            As Wales learnt in SA, if a foul stops a try the referee has to assess whether the player would have scored if the opponent infringing was not there at all. Without the player who performed the high tackle surely the Scotland player had a gentle, unbroken stroll to the line? That’s a penalty try then! Intent and maliciousness is irrelevant.

  15. Xyz

     /  February 16, 2015

    Lads, why doesn’t Henshaw have an obscure nickname yet?

    • Would you call a man who can pick up Wesley Fofana and throw him backwards names? No, thought not.

    • Das Waderwurst

       /  February 16, 2015

      What, you mean the Henchman©?

    • LumberingForward

       /  February 16, 2015

      Whenever he bounces back from his first bad game for Ireland they could call it the Henshawshank Redemption.

  16. jlo

     /  February 16, 2015

    Think Biggar should be cited for jumping so high to kick Russell in the head.Daft rule

  17. hulkinator

     /  February 16, 2015

    POM is a world class player. Pound for pound he is very powerful. He – along with the rest of the Irish pack – isn’t as lightweight as some make out. Compared POMs stats to other flankers. He is a good lineout option offensively and defensively. He reads the game very well. He is very good at the breakdown. He is a decent ball carrier, better than most 6’s, and he is highly skilled.

    I don’t know what people want. It sounds like people just want to pick the team based on how much they weigh! Thankfully rugby is a bit more complicated than that 😉

  18. Excellent comments all. Such a relief from many other fluff brained observations on other forums.

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