Return to Traditional Values

As we think about how to gauge Ireland’s chances against Wales on Saturday, in what is (for them) effectively a Grand Slam decider, the thought occurred to us that Joe Schmidt has Ireland operating at a level close to the Southern Hemisphere big three. We based that on our wins over the Boks and the Wobblies in November, and the clinical nature of our wins over France and England. Wales were beaten last year, leaving BNZ the only peaks unscaled by Schmidt’s Ireland in 18 months. Not bad, but it’s qualitative – Ireland are the best team in a Championship that has left a little to be desired in terms of quality. Is there something we can quantify (we started life off as a rugby nerds blog, then somehow evolved into a platform for bitterness, so in a way we are, prepare the sick bag, returning to traditional values).

The recent run of 10 wins in a row left us thinking where this should rank in the greater scheme of things – on the face of it, not much since 2 of those wins were against Italy and one against Georgia. In fact, its not even a standalone record, with Ireland under Eddie having already nailed 10 wins in a row from Sept 2002 – Mar 2003, but that included wins against Fiji, Russia, Romania and Georgia. If you look at the list of longest streaks, what stands out for us is that five of the top nine (top seven if you exclude Cyprus and Lithuania) are by BNZ – BNZ almost never play useless minnows (disgracefully so in the case of the plundered Pacific Islands) and play the Boks and the Wobs every year, plus away games to the top European nations, and occasionally Wales. Winning streaks of 17, 16 and 15 (twice) in the professional era are bloody impressive.

That in turn got us thinking – what if we shrank the rugby universe to the Southern Hemisphere big three, Argentina, plus England, France, Wales and Ireland and the timeframe from 1999-now (emergence of Argentina as a serious force). Perhaps its a conceit to include Ireland in that company given our hopeless RWC record and paucity of actual silverware (not including Triple Crowns) compared to the rest, but bear with us. How long would record winning streaks be if only games between these 8 nations be in scope?

  • New Zealand: 16 (June 2013 – June 2014) – 4 vs France, England, 3 vs Australia, 2 vs Argentina, SA, 1 vs Ireland.
  • England: 11 (March 2002 – August 2003) – 3 vs Wales, 2 vs BNZ, Australia, 1 vs Ireland, France, SA, Argentina. This was Johnno’s team at the peak of its powers.
  • South Africa: 7 (August 2008 – August 2009) – 3 vs BNZ, 2 vs Australia, 1 vs England, Wales. This Bok team also beat the Lions twice in the middle of that run, and lost the Third Test – since they played the reserves in that Test, it doesn’t feel right to include the series, but worth bearing in mind
  • Australia: 7 (October 1999 – July 2000) – 2 vs SA, Argentina, 1 vs France, Wales, Ireland. Ireland certainly weren’t great shakes here, but this is another one of the great teams of the professional era
  • Ireland: 7 (March 2014 – Present) – 2 vs France, Argentina, 1 vs SA, Australia, England
  • France: 6 (November 2005 – June 2006) – 2 vs SA, 1 vs England, Wales, Ireland, Australia
  • Wales: 3 (on three occasions, latest February 2012 – March 2012) – in each of Wales 3 Grand Slams of the era, they quite obviously beat England, France and Ireland consecutively
  • Argentina: 2 (several times, latest Aug 2014 – Present) – Aus and France have been beaten in the Pumas most recent games. They won 5 from 7 from May-Oct 2007, when they were st their previous peak

First reaction – that list contains some of the best teams of the professional era – the BNZ team that equalled the record of Colin Meads great team, the England team that won RWC03, the Springbok Lion-tamers of 2009 and the 1999 Wobblies. Second reaction – the Greatest Team in World Rugby isn’t quite at the races – we’ll come back to that. And what about Ireland? You can pick holes in the strength of the Argentina teams we played if you want, but you still need to beat them, 10,000km away from home, at the end of the season. And we haven’t played BNZ in that timeframe. Yet still, we are in pretty glided company, even by this imperfect metric, and all the teams we’ve already beaten are likely the ones we’ll need to beat to get to the RWC15 final – we’ll take that for sure.

Ireland at present have attained a high level of consistency of results against the best teams in the world – they have a coach who has instilled a deep commitment to accuracy and execution, which is essentially the thing that has brought them to where they are. When we consider how Ireland will fare against Wales, we need to consider how Wales have fared against the big Southern Hemisphere teams they have played. And anyone who hasn’t been hiding under a rock will no that Wales record against that hemisphere under Gatty is awful:

  • New Zealand – played 7, lost 7
  • South Africa – played 11, won 1, lost 10
  • Australia – played 11, won 1, lost 10

They rarely lose by much (particularly to the Wobblies), but they consistently lose – and its the biggest stick that Gatland gets beaten with in Wales. The Lions Test series win with a majority Welsh side provides some counterpoint, but the reality is that if Kurtley Beale had worn longer studs, they would have lost – and that was to one of the worst Wobbly sides since Australia got to be a Lions tour destination.

Wales have picked their team for this game and its as you were. Tactics? As you were – classic Warrenball awaits. While we see big danger in the Welsh players who are least likely to play super robotically – Rhys Webb and Liam Williams (ironically, probably the two players Gatland felt least comfortable bringing in for Warrenball veterans Mike Philips and Alex Cuthbert), we just think this Ireland team is operating at the kind of level that Wales struggle against. It will likely be a tougher test than previous games, as Wales are similar to Ireland in that they play low-risk rugby designed to force errors. They profited from Scottish and French ineptitude in the last two rounds, but when put under pressure by England they looked rudderless and highly unlikely to win the game, despite starting with a 10 point lead.

If Conor Murray and Jonny Sexton maintain their accuracy of kicking and Ireland continue to own the ruck, we feel this will be enough of a platform for victory. It will be fraught I’m sure, but another bloodless coup would not surprise us. We expect by Saturday evening, Ireland will have a trip to Murrayfield to nail a Grand Slam, and an incredibly favourable draw all the way to their next meeting with BNZ.

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  1. Question. If we did win the slam and were then on a 12 game winning streak do WC warm up matches count against that streak if we lost 1?

    • Would think so, given our streak includes a win over Georgia in November! Or if you are talking about our madey-uppy metric, then only those against Wales and England count

      • I suppose if world ranking points are on the line is what consitutes a “test match”. For instance that Fiji game we played in 2012 before the Argentina match was uncapped so Craig Gilroys three tries didn’t count as proper “test” tries.

  2. Shouldn’t the Welsh record under Gatland read:

    Australia – played 14, won 3, lost 11 ?


  3. aoifehamill

     /  March 12, 2015

    Really enjoyed this post guys. Definitely an interesting trend to look at.

    You’re making me feel infinitely better about the various bolshy late night bets I’ve made with people that Ireland are going to win the World Cup 🙂

  4. andrew097

     /  March 12, 2015

    Playing Wales is a big big challange, on paper they probably are slightly better. Away game, a ref that is flawed and a Irish side that goes into its shall with a 1/4 to go. If Murray kicks the ball away cheaply towards the end in a tight game we will most likely lose. As Wales are very good at holding on to the ball. I hope it’s a dead game by then

    • aoifehamill

       /  March 13, 2015

      On what basis do you feel they’re better on paper?

    • Disagree that Ireland go into their shell per se, I think it’s more a combo of tiring bodies, sexton going off (against England) but more importantly the opposition not having the bench to win the game. When wiggles worth and 12trees came on I knew Ireland had won. So did Ireland, so why attack when you have a 10 point lead? To ‘put them to the sword’ – maybe it would have been exciting but hardly necessary.

  5. Will

     /  March 12, 2015

    I’m of the generation of Irish supporters who have had little respect for the Welsh best summed up by Ken Early’s rant on Welsh radio just before the RWC quarter final ( They had probably even less respect for us as a rugby nation due to the 70s and it being their national sport, blah, blah, blah… So thanks WOC for confirming my views!
    We used to beat each other away from home every year and then we started getting the upper hand in the early 2000’s. They really didn’t like that. Especially that Stephen Jones fellah. I really haven’t rated their generally lucky grand slams, where France don’t turn up and they catch the rest of the teams on an off weekend. Obviously they don’t rate ours. It’s a beautiful relationship.
    Now, it just feels like we’re so well coached that we’re actually achieving our potential. It always seemed as if we weren’t under Eddie and Deccie. Wales are very good, no doubt, but we have better players consistently playing well to a good game plan. Worryingly Warren has been quiet this week and Barnes is in the middle (no team should be reffed twice by him in the tournament – that’s just unfair), but I’m quietly, solidly confident we’ll be heading to Murrayfield for the big one.

  6. Riocard Ó Tiarnaigh

     /  March 13, 2015

    Talk about getting ahead of ourselves. Call me superstitious, but envisioning a RWC final against the Blacks with a Slam under our belts, when we’ve yet to do the business IN FRONT OF 60,000+ WELSH LUNATICS BAYING FOR OUR BLOOD is just the type of thing to stir the likes of Loki into throwing a spanner into Joe Schmidt’s purring Green Machine. If we manage to get out of Cardiff with a win, I’ll be very relieved. My fear is the Welsh doing to us in the Millenium, what they did to England two years ago. That’s what they’ll be aiming to do. Hopefully they won’t succeed!!!!

    • Fergal

       /  March 13, 2015

      England were caught on the hop that day; seems to be the main flaw with Lancaster, as they got caught on the hop vs us last game, and vs the All Blacks/South Africa in the autumn. Don’t think Joe gets caught on the hop very often – the only time with Ireland was the Wobbly game first up.

      • Riocard Ó Tiarnaigh

         /  March 13, 2015

        Good point. Fingers crossed all the same!!!

  7. Yossarian

     /  March 13, 2015

    When i saw the title i thought this was going to be article of how the “Garryowen” was an irish invention and that joe Schmidt has taken us back to “our traditional values” utilising our GAA background and the advantage we have in the air to develop a style of rugby that suits the Irish skill set.

  8. Bueller

     /  March 13, 2015

    Irish record vs 6N + Sanzar teams since ’99 reads like this for almost precisely a 50% record:

    95% – Italy
    68% – Scotland
    67% – Wales
    64% – Argentina
    50% – England
    45% – South Africa
    33% – France
    30% – Australia
    00% – NZ

    (* Once the lower nations are include the overall figure is 61%)

    • Bueller

       /  March 13, 2015

      To put that into context the list of all teams records in the 6N+Sanzar imaginary mini-league since ’99 reads as:

      83% – NZ
      59% – Aus
      59% – SA
      58% – Eng
      52% – Fra
      52% – Ire
      40% – Wales
      36% – Arg
      28% – Scot
      11% – Italy

  9. Bob

     /  March 15, 2015

    Writing with the benefit of hindsight, but that wasn’t one of your better blogs: from the tired and fallacious cliché of NZ plundering the Islands to Wow! aren’t Ireland amazing, it didn’t quite work out. Looking forward to this week’s edition.

    • aoifehamill

       /  March 16, 2015

      I know! It’s ridiculous! So hard to find good rugby psychics these days.

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