Kidney deserves the chance to sit down with IRFU and explain where he thinks it all went wrong
Irish heads go down after another setpiece mistake. It was the key weakness in Ireland's game on Sunday because of the psychological blows that came from turning the ball over in the scrum and lineout.
From The Blindside:We’ve all been there at one stage or other playing rugby. You’re getting outplayed but you’re hanging on in there. The opposition is disrupting your lineout and putting your scrum under pressure but it’s still close on the scoreboard. Even though you’re camped in your own half and can’t get your hands on the ball, it’s still only a one-score or two-score game. The last thing you lose in that situation is hope.
Ireland lost on Sunday because they didn’t kill off Scotland’s hope.
Scotland were a team with almost no possession and no territory but the one thing they had was a way of getting back into the game. As long as you have that, you will still keep concentrating in defence because you know there’s a chance that the game could turn at any minute. And when the opposition keeps making a mess of line-breaks and losing attacking lineouts and scrums and missing penalties, you will keep finding the energy from somewhere.
Small things become big things. Paddy Jackson’s kick to touch that drops inside the line becomes a massive moment in the game because all of a sudden the team that has been dominating feel a little bit of a wobble and the team that has been defending feel like this is the break they need. It wasn’t just that Ireland weren’t able to make their pressure tell on the scoreboard, it was more that every time they did something really well they ruined it with a bad mistake.
The missed chances off the four clean line-breaks were bad but the lineouts and scrums were nearly worse. Mistakes will happen in open play and fellas can take the wrong option or try to over-complicate it in full flight. But for the lineout especially to go so wrong on the Scottish line when it has been a source of strength for Ireland in recent times was worrying.
Not just for outsiders looking it – it would have been worrying for the players on the pitch at the time. They would have been starting to get annoyed and frustrated by it but also a bit anxious. If they couldn’t rely on the lineout and if the scrum was in trouble even though they were dominating the play, what was going to happen when Scotland had a purple patch? These things can flash through a player’s mind when the basics start going wrong.
You’ve got to hurt a team on the scoreboard. That’s the only place hurt matters. Dominate away, play away with all the ball you like but if you don’t turn it into points you leave the other team in the game.
You’re not inflicting the psychological blows that kill off the other team’s spirit. Scotland kept getting little lifts – turnovers, penalties, scrums. These were energy boosters that came directly from Ireland’s inability to put them away.
The further that game went on, the more disjointed and nervous Ireland looked. They looked like a team who were low on confidence and short on leadership. Considering that it’s only a few weeks since they came out of Cardiff on such a high, the England defeat must have had a huge effect on them. All of a sudden, there’s a lot more pressure on them, a lot more scrutiny and a lot more criticism.
It looks like it has fed into the players to a certain extent. It was interesting to hear Donncha O’Callaghan say after the game that the players were ashamed of their performance. I just think that’s the wrong word to use. You should only ever be ashamed of your performance if you don’t try. Ireland’s players made plenty of mistakes and we could all see where the day went wrong for them but nobody is saying they didn’t try. The effort was there but the accuracy wasn’t.
The atmosphere within the squad must be difficult right now. That’s what happens when you get on a bad run and especially when you throw away a big game that you should have won. The added pressure flows all the way down from the union to the management to the players. The air of disappointment and depression feeds in from the supporters and the media.
As a player, your mood will be so different to even just a couple of weeks ago. You can’t be too jovial or relaxed. Now you’re even careful about making a joke at the wrong time. You have to approach your days in camp and around training in a different way. It was serious before but feels more serious now.
There’s an added bite in everything now for the Ireland players because the season is all about salvaging something from the France and Italy games. The mood won’t be as upbeat, players won’t be bouncing into camp and into training the way they were at the start of the campaign. Everybody will be frustrated and some guys will get ratty with each other. They will need to turn it around quickly and get ready to go into the France determined and in the right frame of mind.
On the coaching side, there’s a lot of flak flying in Declan Kidney’s direction these days and that’s understandable because he is the boss and ultimately he signs off on all the major decisions. Declan has made big decisions that haven’t worked out. The captaincy was one, Paddy Jackson was the other. He will have to live and die by those decisions now. I think the least he deserves is to be allowed the chance to sit down with the union at the end of the Six Nations and explain where he thinks it all went wrong. If he gets that and is still replaced at the end of this contract, so be it.
But the coaches underneath him have to take responsibility as well.
The setpiece malfunctioned badly and that’s Gert Smal’s area. Ireland have only scored 21 points since half-time in the Wales game and the attacking side of their game is Les Kiss’s department.
There’s more than just the head coach who should be taking the criticism here.
When all is said and done, this is on the players’ shoulders. What happens out on the field is their responsibility. When you dominate a game as much as this, nobody can blame the gameplan for a defeat.
I was really impressed with the way Ireland played in the first half – their energy was high, they were running great lines and really pushing Scotland around at the breakdown.
To me, the setpiece was the key weakness because of the psychological blows that came from turning the ball over in the scrum and lineout.
You could see the effect it had on the Scottish players – they were desperate for any bit of a lift they could get and Ireland’s setpiece gave it to them. This was Ireland’s own doing. Their accuracy and decision-making was so poor.
When they needed leaders, Ireland were found wanting. When Jamie Heaslip was made captain, I was one of the people who couldn’t see what the big deal was. I really didn’t think it was going to be that significant. But looking at it now, there’s something not right there.
I think maybe Brian O’Driscoll is just too big a player or too big an influence. However much he tries to take a step back, the team still look to him.
At times on Sunday, the Irish players looked like they were looking around for somebody to do something. Games are won and loss when there’s pressure. That can be pressure to score or pressure to defend – either way, that’s when your team needs somebody to come up with a big play. Those moments are where you find leaders having their biggest influence. Ireland made a mess of those moments when the pressure came on.
They’re in a tough place now as players. They have to see the rest of the tournament as an opportunity to right the wrongs. They got themselves into it, now they have to get themselves out of it.