A performance to be proud of but our maddening inconsistency continues to baffle

Mon, Nov 26, 2012, 00:00

French NotesWe are allowing administrators, coaches and players to perform well below acceptable standards and get away with it

This November produced a good win against the Pumas and sixth position on the IRB rankings. That is well below what this Irish team is capable of and below what we should all accept from the administration of the national team.

The Springbok match was one of the worst games of rugby I have had the misfortune to watch. The Boks were under manned and as badly prepared as I have ever seen them. They are rarely in such a poor state and were ready to be taken.

In what has become a trademark of the past three seasons, the national team’s systems, that deliver the athlete to the ball in both attack and defence, were almost unobservable. If Ireland had a plan on how they were going to go forward and attack the Boks, I could not see it.

What could be observed and has been observable for many games is that, whatever it is the coaches were attempting to do, the players did not do it. Players and coaches carry the responsibility for executing a game plan. It was not executed against the Boks.

We soldiered on to Limerick.

The decision to declare the Fiji game a “non cap match” because of an external commercial contract is without precedent in world rugby.

Fantastic sponsors

Have you ever heard of men representing their country being denied recognition of their achievements because of a sponsor’s contract? I am sure Aviva, who are fantastic sponsors of rugby, did not want their name sullied as the big corporate bad guy in denying Test caps to the excellent young Irish players who performed so well in Limerick. But that is the unfair reality for Aviva Insurance.

I say unfair, because the responsibility lies with the IRFU. When the original contract for the naming rights of Lansdowne Road was being negotiated, the IRFU should have demanded that every two seasons a ‘tier two’ international be played outside of Dublin.

Did the IRFU actually sign a contract that said they could never play international matches in Limerick or Belfast? Unbelievable.

As Kerry Packer once said, to the board of directors of a company he was about to make a takeover offer to: “there is a little bit of the whore in all of us, gentlemen. What is your price?” Asked the same question, the IRFU pitched low. The decision was made to play the Fiji game in Limerick, because the costs of staging the game at Lansdowne Road were high. The IRFU needed a big crowd to cover costs.

With full knowledge that the players would be denied caps the IRFU moved the game to Thomond Park. They allowed the price of an Irish cap to be set by their sponsor. Kerry Packer was right.

Pathetic. To those involved, hang your heads in shame.

One day I hope the Irish rugby community will be given the opportunity to apologise to Fijian rugby for the insult. The proud Fijian people are worthy of an international cap against Ireland every time we play. We, the Irish, of all peoples, should be aware of valuing and supporting others cultures.

Then we come to the team we like least to play, the Pumas. This Argentinian side were both well prepared and battle-hardened. Yet Ireland dominated from the start. They were energetic, aggressive and creative. Gone was the disorganised Irish performance we viewed against the Boks.

It was great to watch Ireland comprehensibly outplay the Pumas. It was the type of performance we all know this Ireland team is capable of producing on a regular basis.

The team played exceptionally well. Congratulations to all involved. But the question remains. Why has the national team played so poorly on so many occasions, yet once every season they are capable of such excellence?

Intensity

Since winning the Grand Slam in 2009 I can identify only two other performances that were equivalent in intensity and execution to the Pumas match. Defeating England in the last game of the Six Nations Championship in 2010 and smashing Australia in the pool stages of the World Cup, were top shelf performances.

Why only these three great wins over such a long time period? There are comfort zones across the entire Ireland team set up. We are allowing administrators, coaches and players to perform well below acceptable standards.

Sixth on the IRB rankings is below this team’s capability and drastically under what we, the Irish rugby community, should demand from such talented players and coaches.

The performances of administrators, coaches and players during November are a microcosm of the problems within this national team structure. Good people, under- performing, and getting away with it because they are good people.

There is a need for some ruthless leadership to simply state to all involved: “You are capable of much better performances and I will demand it of you, and hold you accountable for your actions.” Ask the Fijians, and they will say that type of leadership is sadly lacking in Ireland. But then the Fijians don’t count. They are not even worthy of a cap.

Everyone involved with the national team will claim responsibility for the good win against the Pumas. As for the rest of November and being sixth on the IRB rankings, well that will be someone else’s fault.

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