Way Off The Ball

Last night’s episode of Wednesday Night Rugby on Off The Ball was a dispiriting affair.  The outstanding sports show has the best interviewer in Irish sport – Eoin McDevitt – in the chair, and answering the questions was the genteel, insightful and always balanced Keith Wood.  And, eh, Gerry Thornley.

Gerry’s performance hit a new low ebb last night.  There had been flickers of his old self during the summer tour, but last night stamped out any dying embers.  He appeared positively affronted when McDevitt put it to him that the IRFU should be looking at lining up replacements now, rather than leaving it to nine months time.  He is only capable of seeing an upturn in Ireland’s fortunes, in spite of all evidence in front of him.  When Brian O’Driscoll’s eye-opening quotation about not really knowing who’s in charge of Ireland’s attack was put to him, he simply ummed and aahed, leaving Keith Wood to point out that this was a proper criticism, indeed a shot across the bough.

Then the hand-picked, selective statistics came out.  Ireland were top try scorers in the Six Nations!  Our attack is fine!  Yes, they were, but nine of the thirteen tries came in home games against Scotland and Italy.  The more pertinent statistic is that Ireland won two out of five games and remain maddeningly inconsistent and reactive.

The lowest point came when Keith Wood suggested Ireland should bring in Joe Schmidt to offer a different voice and bring something new to Ireland’s attack.  Thornley’s extraordinary response was that this would cut across Les Kiss.  Apparently we should be more concerned about upsetting the ego of Ireland’s already overworked defence coach than getting the best possible coaches to work with.  It’s hugely depressing that the leading rugby journalist in Ireland’s predominant rugby paper should be pussy-footing around the obvious issues like this.  Nobody wants our journalists to become a ‘head-on-a-plate’ raging mob, but asking the pertinent questions is the least we should expect.

WoC recalls a time when any Six Nations or Heineken Cup day began with reading Thornley’s previews in that day’s Times, be it on the couch or on the way to the ground.  It’s a sad decline from a once great writer.

Spence’s timing spot on

Our hero and inspiration Gerry Thornley was in fine form on Newsnight’s Off The Ball on Wednesday night. Like so many of us, it seems he is a big fan of Ulster’s exciting new centre Nevin Spence. Indeed, Spence has had a breakthrough season this year, and his performances have seen him pencilled onto our World Cup Bolter list.

But what Gerry was most impressed with was Spence’s timing. No, not in running onto the ball, but of his birth. ‘He’s timed his career perfectly’, Gerry told us.

So, we here at Whiff of Cordite would like to give a shout-out to Mr and Mrs Spence for having the canny foresight to give birth to the next great Irish centre just as Drico and Dorce’s careers are coming to an end. Kudos!