The Offload: Ireland’s pre-World Cup malaise is self-imposed
Saturday’s daunting trip to Cardiff is likely to see the injury list increase ahead of Japan
Joe Schmidt looks on during Ireland’s record defeat to England at Twickenham. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Old school mentality needed
There’s a seminal moment in the 2003 film Old School when Frank The Tank gives a heroic team talk to his frat buddies despite being badly burned while diving through a ring of fire in furry mascot attire. “We can’t have anyone freak out out there okay?” yells Frank. “We got to keep our composure! We’ve come too far! There’s too much to lose!”
Frank picks up a folding chair and slams it into the lockers: “WE GOT TO KEEP OUR COMPOSURE!”
Two perspectives are visible following this sobering, or possibly alcohol inducing, 57-15 defeat to England at Twickenham.
Theory 1: We are doomed. Even Professor Schmidt’s rugby calculus has stalled under the weight of Ireland’s World Cup history; this tournament being a curse on our very psyche, as the team always peaks mid-cycle before nose diving into oblivion. So, in reality, all hope is futile.
Theory 2: Whoever came up with the logistical nightmare of a preseason that includes flogging a bunch of pasty Irish men under searing Portuguese sun before sending them out to face a fully stocked and primed England – who whipped them six months previously, not to mention the Munster then Leinster beatings inflicted by Billy, Maro and Owen in the Champions Cup – needs to admit the “malaise” (Schmidt’s word) is self-imposed. As an Irish rugby guru once said, “You can’t unring a bell”.
Cardiff on Saturday, for Warren Gatland’s last Test in charge at The Principality, will only deliver more bodies to the mounting Johnny Sexton (leg), Joey Carbery (ankle), Cian Healy (ankle), Conor Murray (head) injury list. Mounting evidence begs two questions: do the coaches fully understand what is happening? If the answer is no, do senior players possess the will to do what their English (2007) and French (2011) counterparts did, and seize control of their own destiny?
By the numbers
34 - The number of missed tackles in a 57-15 defeat to England at Twickenham on Saturday leaves Irish players and coaches with little place to hide.
Simon Zebo - Ireland’s missing trick
One place Joe Schmidt’s Ireland won’t be turning to is Paris. When offered multiple chances to play under the current dictatorship, Simon Zebo chose luxurious exile. And that’s where he will remain after a series of petty tweets showed why Schmidt went with Dave Kearney and many others ahead of the sublimely talented Cork fullback.
“Now that’s a manager,” came Zebo’s cheap shot when Luke Fitzgerald, the week of a Test, retweeted a letter written by Alex Ferguson to Eric Cantona. Remember, Ireland were running out of players before the 2015 quarter-final defeat to Argentina yet Schmidt refused to put Fitzgerald onto the pitch until it was too late, and even name Zebo on the bench. That two of the most naturally-gifted players of any Irish rugby generation weren’t fit into the system has been a handy stick to beat the 53-year-old Kiwi. After seeing the ensuing smiley faces and winks – ha, ha, ha – one could assume there was similar carry on inside the camp.
“I know [Zebo’s] hurting,” said Ronan O’Gara on Off The Ball. “When you say those wingers there [Dave Kearney and Andrew Conway] a tuned in Zebo would offer more.”
Brian O’Driscoll: “I agree.”
“It’s a pity that an amicable solution wasn’t found,” O’Gara added. “Zeebs had to cop himself on a bit . . . because we don’t have players like that too often.”
“Does a bear [shit in the woods]” was the 29-year-old’s response to OTB asking, “Have Ireland missed a trick by not considering Simon Zebo for this World Cup?”
Ireland will miss the odd trick but nothing more.
Quote of the week
“I have never cheated and never will. The presence of this prohibited substance in my body has come as a massive shock to me and together with my management team and experts appointed by them, we are doing everything we can to get to the source of this and to prove my innocence” – Springbok winger Aphiwe Dyantyi has requested the ‘B’ sample
RFU show the way forward
Leinster captain Sene Naoupu has paid tribute to the RFU confirming the women’s Tyrrells Premier 15s for another three seasons. “Whether other countries like it or not, this is what standardisation, centralisation and specialisation looks like to induce and sustain a high performing, highly commercial commodity of a domestic competition and pathway for the national teams,” Naoupu tweeted.
You won’t be hearing much about the progress of female rugby on this island any time soon, especially when the interpros are scheduled the same day Ireland men face England at Twickenham. At least Ulster versus Leinster kicked off afterwards (7pm) with the visitors winning 24-5 but there was no common sense at the Sportsground as Munster beat Connact 27-6.