Tipping Point?

Its hard to over-estimate how important this next game is for Ireland. Lets for a second ignore the immediate importance, that of potentially avoiding the Boks at the quarter-final stage of the RWC. There is a much bigger issue at stake – that of the future of the core of this team for the last decade.

Since Ireland abandoned 10-man rugby and came out throwing the ball around Croker against Scotland in the 2010 Six Nations, they have looked increasingly frail. That game itself, they were unlucky to lose, but the  punters noted a free-flowing strategy of passing laterally, coming off second best at the breakdown and an inability to execute the basics well, like passing to each other.

Since then, Ireland’s performance levels have gone only one way:

  • June 2010 tour: P4 L4 (including to the Barbarians in Limerick) – this wasn’t as bad as it appeared – an injury-blitzed Ireland performed very creditably on tour, which saw apparent breakout performances from Dan Tuohy, Mushy and Rhys Ruddock
  • November Internationals 2010: P4 W2 L2 – losses to South Africa and New Zealand were countered by a very scratchy win over Samoa and a solid one over Argentina (which Egg Chaser remembers for holding a 5 day old Mini Egg throughout) – the NZ performance was again respectable in defeat, but it was back to the same old soldiers – Mike Ross and Sean O’Brien had been playing well for Leinster but didn’t get a look-in and the graduate tourists from June were largely jettisoned
  • Six Nations 2011: P5 W3 L2 – fortunate to get out of Rome alive on the opening weekend, Ireland stumbled through the tournament. All seemed to be forgiven with an electric performance to fillet England in the Palindrome, but the rest was forgettable. Except for Gerry, who managed to blame the referees for every shortcoming
  • World Cup warm-ups: P4 L4 – we’ve been over this before. NB Andy Trimble was our best player in August
  • World Cup: P1 W1 – over the States, without a winning bonus point, where Eddie body-slamed Deccie tactically. Generally poor, although Fez, Rory Best and POC were decent

So, in total, 6 wins in 18 games, 4 of them scratchy and 1 very fortunate. However, there has been a consistent tone of optimism emanating from the camp for this entire time, with everything being justified by “wait until Auckland, you’ll see the real Ireland there”.

Well, Ireland are now in Auckland (as are Clan Ovale), and the nation now expects a performance, with some optimists expecting more than that. However, what happens if the form illustrated above is more like what we get? What if, as all sensible indicators say, we get thrashed by the Tri-Nations champions? What if this mythical “performance” doesn’t happen?

Ireland are going in to the most important game of Deccie’s reign with 5 players just back from injury, 2 locks who look like they would struggle to ruck Shane Williams out of the way, and 2 backs whose form is, to be charitable, desperate. They have no idea who their starting half backs are, and have a captain-in-waiting who scarcely deserves his place in the XV. Plus, the replacement forwards are not of Heineken Cup class, never mind World Cup (and rugby is a 22 man game now). Is this what all the work over 3 years of Deccie has been for?

 We are feeling pretty pessimistic here, but if the match goes to form, and Ireland get panned, this group of players will find it exceptionally difficult to lift themselves for the Italy match. We are getting the impression that, mentally, all the eggs are in the Wallaby basket.

And what will that leave us with? An aged (not ageing) team with confidence and mental well-being in pieces – if Italy don’t finish us off, the Boks (including a ravenous Fleshlumpeater) undoubtedly will.