Irish media walk out after players boycott journalist

Rugby One out, all out

RugbyOne out, all out. An unfortunate impasse developed between the Irish squad and the travelling Irish press corps here yesterday that had some echoes of a similar, avoidable stand-off in the Welsh camp this season. A mass refusal by the players to have any contact with one Irish journalist led to a walkout by the travelling media.

The Irish players protested over the contents of one reporter's analysis of Ireland's first-Test defeat to the All Blacks by not only declining to grant him any one-on-one interviews or even answer any questions he might ask but also by asking he be denied access to group interviews. In effect, he was to be banished from interviews on Ireland's only player media day of the week.

The journalist in question, Dave Kelly of the Irish Independent, had little option but to leave the room, and after unsuccessful entreaties were made to the Irish team press officer on the premise this was a rather excessive stance, all the Irish print and photographic media also left the room at the squad's hotel in Auckland.

Subsequent requests from the Irish media corps for a meeting with representatives of the leading players, so both sides could air their views, were turned down by the players.


All very avoidable and a pity. We are here, in part, to impart their thoughts to the Irish public. That this impasse has been reached is especially ironic given it comes in the immediate aftermath of a major new sponsorship deal for the Irish team. As it is, the press corps, who have travelled 12,000 miles, have access to the players or management only three days a week.

In contrast, the All Blacks fulfil media obligations seven days a week. Think back to the November Test in Ireland, and that is why the All Blacks hogged the newspapers. They understand the value and importance of promoting their brand. As then, we are here to help make the Irish players stars but have little option other than to focus on the All Blacks,

In contrast, when it comes to the actual rugby and Saturday's second Test in Auckland's Eden Park, the All Blacks would appear to have more room for improvement. Nevertheless, Eddie O'Sullivan believes there is scope for Ireland to not only replicate the generally impressive performance of the first Test against the world's best team but better it, highlighting in particular the ill-discipline that cost his team an 11-6 penalty count.

"We defended really well for long phases but then ultimately gave away some soft penalties, which is really the worst possible sin," said O'Sullivan. "So I was disappointed with that. Our discipline in the Six Nations had been extraordinarily good but we let ourselves down in the second half on Saturday."

Mindful of the unforced handling errors in executing set-piece moves among the backs, O'Sullivan also admitted Ireland could have been a little more accurate, albeit allowing for this being a step up from the Six Nations.

"When you're under more pressure it's even more difficult, but they're the things you can work on," he said.

O'Sullivan denied the scrums were as catastrophic as made out, pointing out that of Ireland's nine put-ins, only one was lost to an indirect penalty, and of the other eight, three led to moves by the backs.

The inclement weather this week has raised the spectre of one of those rain-sodden night-time kick-offs that often blight New Zealand's winter home games. This, of course, might mean more set-pieces and particularly scrums.

"If it does rain like it's been doing it does change the landscape," conceded O'Sullivan. "You've got to adapt your tactics, and it would probably be harder for us to play a slugging game with them because they are a bigger side than us, but it's not the dog in the fight, it's the fight in the dog."

O'Sullivan has opted for an unchanged starting XV and replacements bench, and it will be a surprise if many of those replacements or the eight other hitherto idle players are brought into the match squad to play the Wallabies in Perth on Saturday week.

Asked if an unchanged team could sustain a performance over longer than 60 minutes, O'Sullivan answered, "Yep." And when asked to expand, he merely said he believed Ireland could play better and make fewer mistakes.

He admitted Ireland weren't far from playing to their full potential in the first Test while accepting the All Blacks were about 30 per cent short of their optimum. He pointed out: "When you play a team, you don't have to be better than them to win, you only have to be better than them over 80 minutes. We've beaten England three times on the bounce on three different Saturdays. Had we played them on the Friday or Sunday, we mightn't have won. That's why rugby is a very interesting sport . . ."