Ashton points to the mental mistakes


The demeanour of Brian Ashton and an unusually quiet Pat Whelan in a relatively low-key press conference probably reflected the mood in the dressing-room. No corks popped, but no sorrows needed to be drowned. A job reasonably well done. Asked what pleased him about the performance, the Irish coach, as is his wont, succinctly divided the analysis into three points. "First of all we won. Secondly we scored five tries to win. And thirdly, now and again, we showed we could play a bit of rugby."

On the negative side, Ashton conceded: "What we didn't do was put a consistent game together for 80 minutes in terms of the sort of game that I'd like to see. But I suspect that's a fair way off yet. In fact, I felt we put together some very pleasing aspects of play, and we finished off much better than I've seen Irish sides do in the recent past."

The Irish camp will probably look upon this as a five-tries-to-one victory, and Ashton, understandably, was not in the mood to make much of Eric Elwood's unusually low return of three kicks out of nine. Indeed, the Irish coach was more concerned about the penalties that weren't run than those that were kicked and missed.

"Yes, it would have been nice if Eric had popped over his usual quota goals. It probably would have taken us to 45, 50 points. But these things happen and he didn't. I'm sure there'll be other days when he'll kick goals to win us games.

"Overall, and I don't make any secret of this and certainly it's no secret for the players, it's not the physical side of things we're trying to change, it's the mental side of things. I was fascinated to see, with 15 minutes to go, when we were awarded two or three penalties and kicked them to touch. I don't quite see the point in that when we're 22 points in front and playing reasonably well. But it's a mind set that players get into. That sort of thing doesn't change overnight. You need to be doing a little bit more of that, week-in, week-out to take it into an international field."

Whelan drew comfort from a victory which was achieved despite the absence of 11 players through injury. "Unfortunately, what you really need at international level is a hard core of experience. But the guys will benefit enormously from the victory today in terms of confidence."

Whelan revealed that Keith Wood is expected to return for Harlequins a week before the Italian game on December 20th and that Eric Miller should be fit by next weekend. But the Newcastle pair of Ross Nesdale and Nick Popplewell will be released to play for Newcastle in the European Conference semi-finals. Popplewell retired with a hamstring strain while Kieron Dawson sustained a knee cartilage injury.

Pat Parfrey, the patently disappointed Canadian coach, took some solace from the way his team sought to play the game. "The important thing for us was that we played tried to play enterprising rugby, and we tried to go to areas that make it more difficult for our players. Our ball-retention skills were poor today and that was the difference between the teams."

Relative to Ireland, Canada are poor relations in rugby terms. Drawing further solace from his team's commitment, Gareth Rees, their captain, spoke of the "hardships some of the guys have to come through, It's quite remarkable and I think you should be aware of that".

Parfrey pointed out that, not only are the Canadian players not paid, but they have to buy their own insurance policies. He also returned to a favourite hobby horse, and a valid concern about the growing elitism in world rugby, by warning that: "The professional nations are going to get away from the amateur nations. I'm just concerned about the future and if we're not able to keep in contact, then you're going to have a two-tier game."

Parfrey reckoned that Ireland's "primary possession skills were excellent. They tweaked the scrum the way they wanted it to go to create the last try from that technical skill, and they were in total control of their lineouts, and when they got the ball they generally made good use of it."

The former Munster and Irish winger was reluctant to go further: "I'm the Canadian coach and I was watching the team in red." Out of politeness though, he did. "The fellas in green seemed to be running past us at a fair lick. Their forwards were good at it (retaining the ball), although their backs coughed it up a few times when they were trying to be enterprising, which could cause them a few problems in the Five Nations. But for an inexperienced team they were actually more streetwise than Canada were."

Rees described Ireland as "much more physical than I've seen Ireland before and their pack put us on the back foot a bit. I was pleased to see them moving the ball, it wasn't always to hand, but it was a very positive approach from Ireland.

"I suppose the sign that would worry Brian Ashton is that we were able to play with them. Although some of our moves broke down, we showed some really good movement and incorporated our athletes handling the ball. So we felt comfortable running at them."

That said, Rees concluded by drawing a favourable comparison between Ireland and Canada's most recent opponents, Wales. Ireland were "much more ruthless" and "that was a much more complete performance by Ireland today. That's my view."