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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: August 27, 2011 @ 6:18 pm

    Ireland look dazed and confused

    Noel O'Reilly

    Was it only a few short months ago we dared to dream the impossible World Cup dream? Well, scrap that. Fanciful notions of a route into the business end of the tournament have long since been dispelled, not just by Ireland’s own lethargy during this series of warm-ups, but even more so by Australia’s ominous resurgence. In their place, we welcome back the old familiar foreboding that generally accompanies a trip to New Zealand.

    On the evidence of the last month (played four, lost four) beating Australia to top our pool is now nothing more than a pipe dream. The Tri-Nations champions are back with a bang, capable of beating the mighty All Blacks and genuine contenders for a third title. We can’t even beat Scotland. Scotland! A place in the quarter-finals looks to be the limit of our capabilities. Same as it always was, then.

    Today’s final outing (20-9 to the old enemey, in case you missed it) before the long journey south laid bare Ireland’s prospects. An unremarkable England team were made to look comfortable as Ireland turned in another misshapen and error-strewn performance. Sure, Manu Tuilagi brings something different to the party, and he took his try superbly, but for all their grunt and grizzle Martin Johnson’s side are some distance away from being world beaters.

    Unfortunately, so are Ireland.

    Again, a lack of cutting edge crippled the side. Apart from one Andrew Trimble linebreak, whereupon the winger chose to ignore a four-on-one overlap, it is difficult to recall Ireland getting in behind the English defence. With Tuilagi a callow, at best, defender that does not bode well for tougher tests assuredly lie ahead.

    Confidence is clearly at a low ebb and the jitters that affected one or two of the squad have spread like disease throughout the side. Right from the outset, when Donncha O’Callaghan and Jerry Flannery bungled the kick-off, mistake after mistake killed any hope of fluency. How Kidney rectifies that is anybody’s guess and the error count must infuriate the coach his backroom staff.

    It is not as if the side are without ambition, but unfortunately the execution is sadly lacking. On five occasions Ronan O’Gara, presumably under the orders of his captain, eschewed relatively straightforward kicks at goal and went for the corner. And on five occasions Ireland came away with nothing. Nada. Zip.

    An overthrow here, a dropped ball there and Ireland were back on the retreat. Even when Eoin Reddan, who did little to justify his elevation to first-choice number nine, took a quick tap in the shadow of the English posts he managed to telegraph his pass straight to the opposition.

    Worryingly, it’s not just form that is taking its toll on this group of players. The injury count is also mounting. David Wallace’s World Cup ended when his knee buckled under a shuddering Tuilagi hit with the Munster number seven carted out of the stadium. It is desperately unlucky on the the veteran, who has been denied a World Cup swansong.

    With Brian O’Driscoll and Seán O’Brien, Ireland’s captain and the current European player of the year, already nursing injuries of their own the loss of Wallace is a bitter pill to swallow. The sight of Jamie Heaslip being helped from the pitch and Cian Healy needing treatment did little to alleviate the gloom that descended on the Aviva Stadium.

    Long before the final whistle, the punters were streaming out of the ground in search of a watering hole to shelter from the rain. Given the quality of rugby on display, from two distinctly average sides, it was hard to blame them.

    • Jim Wallace says:

      Rugby has always been a game that is played as much in the players heads as on the pitch and the whole purpose of the warm-up games should have been to get the players “heads” right! To that end putting, what were in almost every game, “scratch” teams out against our toughest opponents in the Northern Hemisphere was the wrong option. Yes, the players needed game time. But they could have had that by playing the provincial sides. I reckon the guys who played against Connaught got a damn sight more benefit from their game than those who played in the other four games. Oh yes, the intensity they were supposed to need. That’s like saying the cast of a play will perform better due to the intense pressure of the “first night” if they go on with no chance to try out stage moves in rehearsal beforehand. Players need a chance to “settle-in” to their routines both in attack and in defence in a less intense environment before doing “first night”. And finally, was it not verging on the moronic to schedule a game such as the England one for a week AFTER the travelling party was chosen? An injury that knocks you out of contention before “the pick” is sight more bearable than one after. Ask David Wallace.

    • Kilian Carroll says:

      Why can these Irish players do it for their province but not for Ireland? I firmly believe that the Leinster team that won the Heineken cup in May would have won the 6 Nations and could perhaps turn over Australia. That Leinster team bristled with power, intensity, tactical shrewdness and know-how. Ireland, on the other hand, look confused, frustrated, frenetic. It is almost as if they are trying too hard to make things happen. Every attacking move results in a dropped ball or a tackle into touch. There is no patience, no direction, no plan B. Perhaps Leinster is the answer. Presuming that Jennings will come into the squad for Wallace, I would pick Leinster players from 6 to 13. O’Brien, Jennings, Heaslip, Reddan, Sexton, D’Arcy and O’Driscoll. These players can together control a game and direct the Irish play with purpose and power. When D’Arcy and O’Driscoll are on form and run hard and straight, they are still the best in Europe. If Leinster can do it, why can’t Ireland?

    • killian you have hit the nail on the head how come leinster are world beaters and irelans are rubbish. the simple answer is the coaches declan kidney and schmidt

    • Stephen Lane says:

      Australia are tri-nations champions, three months ago they were in crisis. Dont panic folks, the game of charades is over …… watch this space

    • Marty McFly says:

      @ Comment 2 – Oh please, Leinster would not beat Australia or win the 6 Nations. Playing in the Magners League or the HEC is a big step down from Test rugby.

    • Patrick Hall says:

      Ireland knew its best 22 from a resounding performance and result against England at the end of the Six Nations. It would have been advisable to stick to that 22 for the four warm up games (injuries permitting)- the time for trying combinations started 2 years ago and finished at the end of the Six Nations for this World Cup. Ireland is a small rugby playing nation and does not have the luxury and depth to swap players around over these warm up games. Not every player in the squad required minimum playing times – select the main team to allow them to gel. Even a large number of four warm up games does not allow us the luxury for players to win a place in the squad, could the squad not have been practically decided & even announced months ago (like the French did)? Judgement on the players outside the first 15 was required long before now. Slotting them in for injuries to the first 15 would have a two fold advantage – 1) the first 15 get time together 2) the replacements will be entering a stable confident team which the replacement can feed off.

    • Andinov Murphinberger says:


      1. Would it have been better to have played against the 4 provincial teams?

      2. Would a Leinster core of players in 6 through 13 improve things?

      3. Why cant the transition from HC to test rugby be made by these player?
      or how can a team being picked from Leinster/ Munster/ Ulster not beat a team picked from Edinbrough/ Glasgow?

    • MK says:

      A few years ago we couldn’t understad why Munster won the HC twice in 3 years and Ireland weren’t performing, now it’s the same with Leinster. Both those teams contained expensive high class foreign imports like Jim Williams, Rocky Elsom, and Nathan Hines. If the IRFU are serious about the Irish national side they need to ban foreign imports and invest that money in home grown talent, and the best place to start is with Connacht. Why do we have Irish qualified players on the bench at the three big provinces when they could be playing weekly with Connacht? Without competition for places, and Irish leaders in the mould of Elsom and Williams I can’t see the prospects of the Irish team changing any time soon!

    • Charles Quirke says:

      A team running sideways both literally and metaphorically. Has the golden generation turned to bronze? A word of advice to ” We can’t even beat Scotland” Scotland have taken two grand slams in the last thirty years, never failed to get to the quarter finals of the RWC and made a semi, all with less player resources than Ireland. After their club system butchered by professionalism they are rebuilding a side thoroughly and without any assistance from the state as far as I understand. Perhaps some lessons for us old boom bust Irish

    • Nobodys perfect says:

      I’d like to have a whinge about the persistent Leinster are better than Ireland comments but its exactly the sort of stuff Munster fans like me were saying a few years ago when Munster were the dominant team in the country. Why can we beat French teams all the time in the HEC and not at International level? The French have 14 competitive club teams, we have 4 ish…The French have a much bigger depth in their squad and their players are simply better.

      Do you really think swapping out Ferris for Mclaughlin or Bowe for Shane Horgan will make us world beaters? If we can win the 6 nations and beat Australia with just the Leinster team there’s no reason we can’t win the world cup with them right? The Munster 2nd string team beat the Aussie 2nd string team, what are your thoughts on sending them out for that game?

      We need to get a bit real. The Irish team aren’t clicking at the moment and they could have done with a couple of easier warm up games but even firing on all cylinders we would struggle to be Australia in their current form

    • Nobodys perfect says:

      By the way, we’d also be complaining if there wasn’t any experimentation. It was one of the chief moans in the Eddie era

    • Greenmuppet says:

      Come on guys give them a rest!! Its a representative team trying to play international rugby. It should go back to old days of a playing rugby holiday//great beer sessions—You know like in the old rugby touring days ireland could always play one great game on tour!!

    • mike says:

      LOL at Leinster Team winning 6 nations comment…Its full of FOREIGN PLAYERS….hence the success….Luckily we all know whats ahead in the RWC….so will not be disapppointed….Ireland always have a team to make errors and blunders….its always the same…

    • Kilian Carroll says:

      @Marty McFly, The Leinster – Toulouse semi final this year was more intense and of a higher quality than anything in the 6 nations. Besides Strauss, all the Leinster players playing were internationals (and Strauss is the form hooker playing in Ireland). And yes Leinster would of course struggle to beat Australia in their current form, but I think they would at least match them up front and it could be a close run thing. But this is hypothetical. I am still hopeful that this Irish side can discover its form during the group stages. We are unlikely to beat Australia, but hopefully by the time we play South Africa in the quater finals (presuming we beat Italy and SA beat Wales), we will at least be playing closer to our full potential. When our full strength 15 play to their full potential I think they are capable of beating a team like South Africa, all the more so as underdogs. I need to at least be hopeful, disgusted as I am by how this Irish team has been playing in the last two games particularly.

    • ireland_sham says:

      come on shamrock rovers!

      seriously though….more of the same…..ireland are no 1 proponents at shooting themselves in the foot…..poor schoolboy mistakes as usual…..im convinced these so called sportsment must drink too much guinness the night before games……it seems the only explanation possible for all these mistakes……

    • Kilian Carroll says:

      @Mike, 3 foreign players in the starting Leinster team hardly qualifies as full. Look at the quality of Rugby in the 6 nations, it really is not controversial to suggest that the Leinster team that won the Heineken cup were stronger than the English side that won the 6 nations, or even the French side that beat Ireland. And remember, after Ireland beat England in the 6 nations Ireland were considered by many to be the best placed of any of the northern hemisphere sides going in to the world cup. How things change…

    • john says:

      Ireland played rubbish but I was amazed at the lack of professionalism. Having lost 3 matches already surely a morale boosting win was needed but no! on several occasions an easy 3 points wasnt taken instead we went for a training ground practice run that failed every time. England and test match rugby was shown no respect and quite frankly we deserved to get thumped. Quarter final exit with our tail between are legs as usual. All those going to New Zealand to watch this shower have been warned

    • Tim says:

      The game at the weekend really was the last straw as far as I am conerned when it comes to Declan Kidney who has persisted with the Munster mentality which won the Heineken cup all those years ago. The mentality that size and brute strength up front is sufficient to dominate another team whilst neglecting to see that the game has moved on over the last couple of years to a far faster paced game, were the breakdown is more crucial than ever and technique and handling skills are crucial. His squad selections reek of this, Donnacha Ryan and Dennis Leamy whilst tireless workhourses who bring alot in terms of effort and physicality simply lack the basic skills for test rugby. He has refused to give certain players a chance, McFadden hasn’t been given one shot in the centre and should have replaced D’Arcy who is seriously underperforming at the moment early into the second half. We now go to a world cup with a proven centre who has not been tried there once during the friendlies and instead given run outs to players like Earls who is clearly nothing but a winger albeit a very good one. We are clearly struggling for invention in the second row with both Cullen and O’Callaghan underperforming and no viable alternatives, should Ferris have been given a chance to see if he could do anything there, even for twenty mins to see if chasing a game it would be an alternative to add an additional backrower to the team with ball carring skills when necessary.

      My final critisism levelled at Kidney is the backline set up. When you are dealing with a predominantly Leinster backline who play together on a regular basis and have been trained in a definsive system which has clearly worked supremely well all year, why would you change that and try and implement a different defensive system/style. It just beggars belief sometimes

    • Joe moore says:

      It seems to me that everyone is hitting the panic button. Pundits and fans alike! ok yes it would have been nice to be rumbling into the world cup with a couple of wins under the belt but is it the end of the world that they haven’t? In my opinion, these warm up games were about bringing the players up to physical spec and match fitness.Granted it is clear that Ireland have been out muscled up front so far but it’s not the world cup yet. I am convinced that all our patterns of play have remained on the shelf until we hit Aukland. The back play was so lateral and bereft of any notable shape that one of two things is going on. Either these professional players who have been in camp for 6 weeks or more have been taking heroin or they have been developing a game plan and leaving it on the training pitch for now thus leaving the Aussies with nothing to analyse. The scrum hasn’t looked too bad and the line-out isn’t far off functionality. My concern would be at the breakdown where we have looked very pedestrian. Also at scrumhalf you’d have to say that the service was poor. look to the england game where the first receiver was getting hit because Reddan’s pass was so slow!!! with o’driscoll returning and a backrow consisting of Ferris, O’Brien and Heaslip, there may be a lot more to see come world cup time. It may be wishfull thinking but with the odds on Ireland winning the world cup moving out to 40-1, I reckon it’s a good value each way bet.

    • Joe moore says:

      Also let’s not forget how slow Leinster started last season yet look how they finished!!! or England in the last world cup. We’re a bi-polar nation. We’re either world beaters or wooden spoon contenders. I don’t buy in to it and I’m sick of the pundit armchair experts. After the fact they seem to know everything. Mark my words, we’ll run Australia close and we’ll have a good craic at South Africa.

    • John B. Reid says:

      We should be careful how we define “well” or “good” or “success”, when it comes to the outcome of this year’s World Cup for Ireland. For example, getting to the quarter-finals, and then getting knocked out, will not constitute a successful World Cup. No serious country regards anything other than winning the World Cup itself, as a successful outcome. Otherwise, what is the point of going to the World Cup? To make up the numbers? What does that say about the regard that we have for ourselves? Don’t let the IRFU spin a poor outcome at the 2011 World Cup (such as getting to the knock-out stages and no further) as a “success”. It won’t be. And it won’t be fair to the players either to send out the message that the national union and the press corps have such low expectations of them. Beware of the soft bigotry of low expectations. This soft bigotry will permanently cripple our attempts to win Rugby World Cups, and has a bad effect on young rugby-loving kids in Ireland. A “successful” World Cup should be defined as one in which we win the tournament itself. Anything less than that, is by logic, a failure.

      When the Munster rugby team embarked on their epic crusade, after 1999, to one day lift the Heineken Cup, they did not settle (either publicly or privately) for places in the knock-out stages. They eventually won the Heineken Cup (twice) because they always regarded anything less than European cup final victory as a failure. Not winning the European Cup constituted the failure of a season, pure and simple. Leinster, thankfully, have adopted this approach (which Munster once had) with aplomb. In sad contrast to this, when the IRFU takes charge of the message for the Ireland team’s World Cup campaigns, the focus and the emphasis changes. It becomes all about lowering expectations, getting our excuses in early, giving contract extensions to the head coaches BEFORE their teams have been tested on the most important stage of all, and preparing to celebrate mediocrity. If only the mentality and the public statements, from the blazers, were the same as when Munster Rugby waged and completed its great crusade (which was so good for Irish rugby), then Ireland might just win a Rugby World Cup.

    • Baron the Bee says:

      Well it’s all a big come down from beating England in the 6N. At the time I thought the result was either a blip or the reawakening of the “real” Ireland team. Well its not looking great now and we’re all wincing at the thought of the Australia game…. But feck it we could be wrong (hopefully!).

    • Tim Gallwey says:

      There are a lot of good comments here but they all miss a basic point. Why is it that Irish teams have the same faults over and over again? They consistently make a mess of restarts, they lose the ball in the tackle, they give and receive passes badly, and they are often bad in catching the high ball. To me these consistent faults point to a lack of basic skills. Why do we have all these IRFU paid people who are supposed to be developing our players when they seem to pay no attention to these basics? The first essential is to get them right and after that other things will be possible, without them we will go nowhere. Instead of hoping “it will be alright on the night” our players should be spending a lot ot time practising these skills to cure their deficiencies.

    • Charles Quirke says:

      Scotland, Scotland! , have just gone above us in the world rankings

    • orieldude says:

      It’s always quite funny when Irish rugby fans get perplexed when Ireland are not parting the opposition like the Red Sea.

      It’s about time some Leinster and Munster fans accepted a couple of home truths about the Heineken Cup:

      1. There are 12 teams in the Celtic League / Rabobank Nonsense Name, 11 of those have qualified for this year’s Heineken Cup – a stat that speaks volumes on its own. There is also no relegation. Imagine, say, Wigan Athletic effectively guaranteed a place in the Premier League AND Champions League every season?
      2. Due to IRFU player protection policies the ‘first choice’ Ireland players play less than a dozen League matches a season. This, coupled with the relative lower attrition rates in the competition, leaves the Irish players fresh and primed for the Heineken Cup (and Six Nations). Note that despite losing so-called key players routinely, Munster and Leinster dominate the League using foreign players and Irish players nowhere near the national team in the majority of matches.
      3. The English and French Leagues are of a far higher standard than the Robotnik League and the price of failure in them far greater, a key point. As a result the clubs routinely expect their players to play around 20 League matches a season and the ability of those teams to focus on the HC, or to have their best players in tip-top condition, to the same extent as the Irish provinces is diminished. The French, in particular, don’t take the HC as seriously as their own League, due to the generally inferior opposition faced – the inverse of the situation Leinster and Munster find themselves in.

      The Irish provinces have a distinct advantage in the Heineken Cup, which has inflated expectations of how good the national side are. The French are always looking ahead to the World Cup. They have won the Six Nations so often that there are years that they just don’t care and use it to blood new players and systems.

      As for England, well we have Croke Park ’07 and some worthless Triple Crowns (aka the ‘only lost to France’ competition). Who cares? The tri-nations sides don’t. England have still been in both of the last two World Cup finals, and France losing semi finals to England the last twice hurts far more than any ‘Grand Slam’ could soothe.

    • RPE McCarthy says:

      The four games were far from encouraging. A very long way shy of encouraging in fact.

      However, one has to go back almost two years for a rich vein of form from the Irish team in terms of performance and results. I also think that while we won a grand slam we did so playing fairly poorly in almost every game (except vs. France).

      Since then, the Irish team has continued to perform poorly in general.

      I do not subscribe to the theory that anyone should be undroppable and I think the likes of Heaslip, O’Driscoll and O’Callaghan need to be rotated a little more frequently during matches to keep things fresh.

      I also wonder whether or not they are enjoying their rugby. The Leinster squad last year was a happy one – we could see it at the matches.

      I think back to the courage of Leinster’s away loss to Clermont Auvergne last year or the Dan Tuohy / Rhys Ruddock performances in New Zealand a few years ago.

      Where is the joie de vivre? If they can answer that question they will be half way towards getting back on track.

    • Charles Quirke says:

      Please also could we all dispel the myth that somehow the backs are keeping their moves secret so as to outwit the Aussie”s coaching staff. No player, amateur or professional can stick to a plan of games that has them deliberately avoiding giving away their true intentions by playing to a series of prescribed moves or patterns that exclude that which they are using in a forthcoming competition. Any side has to rehearse, try and acclimatise to a style of play. It would presuming powers of deception worthy of a Le Carre novel if we supposed this was all the plan of a master manipulator pulling the strings until the true fiendish brilliance of his concealed plan is revealed on the day that it is required. Thats nonsense, if a side is playing badly in the backs then its because they’re backs are playing badly. I think we all probably need to stop worrying about the “crunch” game against Australia for supremacy and a little bit more as to whether we are actually going to bag the Italians at this rate. Australia look out of our league and its no a wet Northern European day in front of our own fans at which we are going to meet their misfiring touring team next, they’re ready and will be playing in conditions that they love.

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