Flowering Scotland send Kidney and Ireland homeward to think again
Rob Kearney looks dejected after yesterday's 12-8 Six Nations defeat to Scotland at Murrayfield. Photograph: Lynne Cameron/PA Wire
RUGBY:The nagging suspicion at half-time, more a gnawing fear really, was that an utterly dominant Ireland had only translated 80 per cent possession and territorial dominance into a paltry 3-0 lead. Had it been a football scoreline, it still wouldn’t have reflected their dominance, and bumping into Graham Steadman at half-time, the former defensive coach with both countries and now with Newcastle, reverted to the old maxim that a team which doesn’t take their chances is usually punished. And how Ireland paid.
Not only did Ireland’s Six Nations title hopes lie in ruins after yesterday’s demoralising 12-8 defeat to Scotland, but it undermined their entire campaign on what was a bad day for Declan Kidney and the coaches, and also for Jamie Heaslip’s captaincy.
The committee decision making on the pitch, the decisions to decline shots at goal, the lack of variation as the Scots began to defend more and more comfortably against one-off runners, the loss of discipline again and the endgame implosion compounded the failure to convert any of four first-half try-scoring chances. In almost two and a half games since Brian O’Driscoll’s 44th minute try in Cardiff, Ireland have scored 14 points.
Hence, in a fortnight’s time, Ireland host their equally wounded bugbears from France, with the feel good factor generated by the win in Wales all but dissipated.
“It’s hugely disappointing,” admitted Kidney afterwards. “This isn’t what you get into it for. To have got into those two matches, you have to close out tight games and that’s what we need to learn how to do. We won’t make excuses, we all know that’s not going to get us anywhere so we just need to work ahead and look how to finish off those. Had we taken one of those try-scoring opportunities it would have been a completely different day today. It would have been a very good win given the circumstances we are working under.”
Out of jail
His counterpart, Scott Johnson, couldn’t have looked more relieved or happier than if he had just out of jail after witnessing his team do just that. “We took our opportunities and they didn’t take theirs, that was the sole difference,” said Johnson. “I keep saying the ‘W’ will come when we get out part right, this time we got the ‘W’ without getting out part right. Let’s put our qualities together with the strong character we showed today, because that wasn’t perfect from us.
“At half-time I was thinking it was like Ali-Foreman; we were lulling them into some false sense of security, my neck was getting sore looking down one side of the pitch. I’ve been on the other side, it puts pressure on you when you’re not taking chances. They’ll be hurting, we’ll enjoy the next 24 hours but if we want to be a good-quality side we’ve got to acknowledge we’ve got to work on some things.” Bully for them.
Quite how Ireland now salvage something from this campaign is difficult to gauge. For starters, in the unlikely event that Jonny Sexton recovers from a grade two hamstring tear in time, what they do about the outhalf position is anyone’s guess.
It was always a risk, albeit somewhat enforced, to blood 21-year-old outhalf Paddy Jackson at this juncture, talented player though he is, given his goalkicking form and recent ankle injury meant he hadn’t taken a place kick in a month.
Well though he ran and passed, a return of one from four contributed to Ireland’s endgame plight. Ronan O’Gara’s inability to rescue the situation – a misguided crosskick contributing to heightened Irish angst – suggests things mightn’t necessarily have panned out all that differently, but O’Gara might at least have helped Ireland apply some pressure on the scoreboard.
The heavy casualty list hurt Ireland badly, and no-one, unsurprisingly, was missed more than Sexton. Had he been playing, or had Ireland even taken one or certainly two of the four first-half try-scoring chances they created for themselves, then assuredly they would have won comfortably.
The same might be said if they had sought to build more pressure on the Scots on the scoreboard with three-pointers. Jamie Heaslip maintained that having a 21-year-old debutant at outhalf had no bearing on his decisions to go for the corner, but it’s hard to believe that didn’t have some bearing, as, most probably, did Jackson’s first miss.
Finish them off
Asked what Ireland might have done differently aside from take their chances, Kidney said: “There were so many of them (chances) really. You go into the game to try and create them, and we managed to do that, and then you just need to finish them off. The penalties we gave away that gave them their 12 points, I thought at least two of them were very soft from our point of view to cough up. That’s something definitely we’ll have to take a look at.”
“We probably got into three, four lineout positions inside their 22. Had we won them, that would have put more pressure on them too and more points could have come from that. We had a couple of line breaks, obviously the place-kicking as well then too.”
Kidney himself will bear the brunt of the critical fallout from this defeat, but needless to say he wasn’t inclined to make it personal. “I just feel the same way as the rest of the players and the management. There will be frustration given that we created that much that we didn’t manage to win out a game, and that’s what it will be. It’ll be a case of analysing it, picking out bits that I can show the players, create even more the next time if possible and look to win the next match, and that’s all that I will be thinking about.”
For him especially, though, it will be a long fortnight.