Conor Murray calls for a positive response in Italy
Ireland camp still seemingly bemused by the errors that contributed to defeat in Scotland
Ireland, coaches and players, have struggled to come to terms with Murrayfield.
“It would be easy to feel sorry for ourselves and be quite angry at each other,” said Conor Murray. “There is a bit of that naturally there but we shook ourselves down early in the week. We’ve got to respond really positively against Italy.”
The players gathered, with no coach within ear-shot, to address a few glaring issues. Like being physically dominated by Scotland.
“Yeah, we did,” Murray continued. “We are angry at ourselves as well. It’s our team and we want to put it right. We slipped up last weekend.”
The number of uncharacteristic mistakes against Scotland in the last six minutes alone was astonishing as the ball was transferred from within stretching distance of the Scottish try line to Greig Laidlaw taking all the time in the world to slot his fifth place kick from five as the clock tipped into the red.
Reading between the lines – and it is what must be done with this Ireland team – the coaches remain a little perplexed. It must be hard to fathom what on earth happened in those opening and closing passages of play in Edinburgh.
Sounds like Enda McNulty territory. But none of this is new to the well-worn Irish punter. Almost every single English pundit and journalist tipped Ireland for the title before a single ruck was formed. Ireland, the All Black hunters, clear favourites. Definitely. History shows that Ireland and favouritism have rarely been comfortable bedfellows.
“The last time we were shorn of so much experience and there was a real anxiety then that I understood it more,” said Joe Schmidt, making a reference to the Argentina loss at the 2015 World Cup.
“It’s a bit weak-minded to use excuses like that,” was how Rob Kearney apparently and succinctly parked that narrative last Saturday evening.
When Schmidt was asked on Thursday why he felt the need to bring it up again his eyes narrowed: “I’m not sure that I’ve mentioned the bus at all.”
Ireland have moved on to Rome yet this was still being aired as they boarded the plane.
Anyway, not to worry, the wheels are not coming off Schmidt’s Ireland even considering the number of errors in those closing six minutes.
Tommy Bowe was absolved of blame by the coach for what seemed two costly mistakes, yet the veteran winger was still dropped clean from the squad.
Rob Kearney and Devin Toner threw momentum killing passes out of play and onto the ground. Ultan Dillane (hands on ball while off his feet) then Paddy Jackson (not able to roll) coughed up breakdown penalties that made victory impossible. Even CJ Stander lost possession in contact. John Barclay fractured the Irish lineout drive that provided the axe to fell pine trees in November.
At least the brilliantly scrambling Robbie Henshaw put out several signs of forest fire.
It was suggested that perhaps the players owe their coaches a performance. “No, not at all,” Schmidt responded. “As Conor said, they might owe something to themselves. It’s their team. They want to make sure that they deliver, and they know that they have an opportunity and a responsibility to that this weekend.”
The “appetite” and “mood” of the players was what Andy Farrell identified as a problem, which indicated that the Irish coaches were not sussed out in the video room by Vern Cotter. No, it was the fractional missteps of Rory Best and friends. That means Toner is to blame for the lineout as much as Richie Gray is lauded for disrupting the most reliable of Irish launch pads.
“Jeez, you changed your defence in the second half?” Cotter said to Farrell afterwards.
“We didn’t,” said Farrell. “We didn’t. That’s why I am talking about mood.”
Mood, what mood Andy?
“We’ll keep that in-house,” said Farrell.
Simon Zebo gave a friendly version of the same theme: “We know exactly what our jobs are, how to do them and when to do them. If the bus is 10 minutes late or 20 minutes we still know we are in for a battle [in Italy]. That’s not a surprise for us when we are on the pitch. If the bus is late it doesn’t really matter.”