It's time to stop whinging and get behind Jamie and this team
Now is the time for all Irish supporters to do what we expect every Irish player to do. Give everything to the French game. Let all of us stop complaining and whinging. Don’t blame Declan. Don’t blame injuries and stop criticising the captain and the young outhalf. Forget the media speculation, the sideshows and the armchair experts. It is time to shut up and pull together.
A short time ago when Jamie Heaslip’s ball-carrying was almost unstoppable the country loved him. After a few poor games Jamie’s character as a player is being attacked. That is out of order.
Jamie has proved, season after season, that he gives his all for Leinster, Ireland and the Lions. His body is always placed on the line and his character as a player is above reproach. People need to back off.
He has not played his best in recent games but he has always given his best. Jamie is trying too hard. He must relax and play his game. Then say the same thing Brian O’Driscoll said on the day he first captained Ireland. “Follow me”. Today the Irish players need to perform for their captain.
As always, the 15 who take to the field against France are “Ireland”. They represent every Irish person on the face of the planet. The injured Irish players like Paul, Gordon and Jonny are a giant loss. To me, Ronan is a huge loss as well. The players selected have to see this as an opportunity to prove themselves to all of us. To the nation.
In last year’s Bledisloe Cup, the Wallaby team was decimated by injury. Compared to the might of the New Zealanders, they were outclassed in every aspect of rugby except one. Courage.
In the face of adversity the Wallaby display of heart and determination was inspirational. They somehow managed a draw against a vastly superior team.
Robbie Dean’s side gave every atom of their being to that game. No one can ask more of player than if he gives his all. If a team gives their best, then the coach has done a magnificent job.
Ireland must do the same today. On paper France look far too strong, yet at 0 and 3 they are desperate and vulnerable.
At Twickenham France did everything but win. Yet again they suffered at the hands of referee Craig Joubert. There were grave injustices at the breakdown and in the awarding of the Manu Tuilagi try. Following on from the highly questionable officiating of the World Cup final, no one would blame French officials if they claimed, as we say in Australia, “we was robbed!” Steve Walsh is an excellent referee who will not produce such one-sided decisions.
While the return of Freddy Michalak is puzzling, as François Trinh-Duc was steadfast against England, it is the French backrow combination that holds the key to victory. Picamoles is perhaps the best ball-carrying No 8 in Europe, with Thierry Dusautoir at blindside and Yannick Nyanga as a specialist openside. Here France hold an ace.
This week in the Sydney Morning Herald, Springbok Heinrich Brussow, advised that an essential requirement for the Lions Tour of Australia was the selection of a specialist openside flanker.
Of the major rugby countries, only Argentina and Ireland do not subscribe to specialist opensides. Jamie, Seán O’Brien and Peter O’Mahony are wonderful players but it is in the combination of a backrow that the group dynamic empowers the individual to excel.
Seán and Peter are both excellent shortsides, who are hindered by the lack of a Keith Gleeson-style openside flanker.
Finally, amidst the soap opera into which modern coaching has reluctantly been dragged, let us not forget the great debt Irish rugby owes Declan Kidney.
Declan is a Heineken Cup and Grand Slam winning coach. Much more than this, Deccie is a gentleman and one of the most decent men I have met in rugby. Once, Declan and I were friends. Regrettably, since moving into the media, I have had to criticise some of his decisions. Sadly, I am not sure our friendship has survived my transition. I can promise you it is much easier sitting in front of a computer, than sitting in “the general’s seat”, in the white-hot heat of battle, as Declan has done for so long.
Before the nation rises to stab our greatest coaching son, let us all pause and reflect on Declan’s incredible record, his herculean energy and the humble self-effacing way he has accomplished so much.
Many years ago the great Jim Telfer advised me the leadership of a national team was the loneliest job in rugby. My own experience proved Jim was a wise counsel. I dare say both Jamie and Declan would also agree.
At the Aviva today let’s speak for the players with the energy that makes Irish supporters the best in the world. The people must lead the players simply because the players need their people. Give the new captain and his team the energy they desperately crave.
France are still formidable opposition. It will take more than 50,000 of us to win this game.