The Offload: Times are tough but Ireland can turn it around

Freddie sticks the boot in to brother Billy; SOS Zebo, word of mouth and more

Ireland Head Coach Andy Farrell with forwards coach Paul O’Connell, defensive coach Simon Easterby and assistant coach Mike Catt during the Six Nations loss to France. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Ireland Head Coach Andy Farrell with forwards coach Paul O’Connell, defensive coach Simon Easterby and assistant coach Mike Catt during the Six Nations loss to France. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

 

In sport, a team embodies its coach. Andy Farrell’s first time as the chieftain has revealed several indisputable characteristics. Honesty in spades, ferocious intensity and a refusal to go quietly are evident as much as the lack of nuance that epitomised his time playing rugby union.

Ireland could do with evolving into the Rugby League version of the Wigan bruiser.

You may have noticed that Ireland are a work in progress. Farrell will, in all likelihood, be given enough time to construct a style that will, in all probability, be nixed by the body count that is guaranteed to pile up at France 2023.

Defeats against the opposition Ireland had expected to beat – for a brief shimmering period – are racking up. The excuses are valid yet constant. Essentially, when we break it all down, they need their world class players healthy and on the field to have any chance. All of them. But that is never going to happen.

So Farrell guides them down a familiar path. Incremental improvements are happening. Questioning the effort of this Iain Henderson-led outfit would only reveal ignorance. Billy Burns, Jamison Gibson-Park and Rhys Ruddock came into the side due to three mainstays being injured or suspended. None of them let themselves or the team down.

The lineout scared the life out of a French group aiming for world domination. Ireland toil until exhaustion to rise above mediocrity. That is just the way it is at the moment.

It is easy to admire them. The courage is as visible as their inaccuracy. They play like their coach used to in an England jersey. The problem is the collective are more ‘Andy Farrell the centre’ than ‘Andy Farrell the place kicking League legend’.

Nobody is getting the sack, nobody can afford the nuclear option, and nobody deserves it.

By the numbers

2: It’s the first time Ireland have lost their opening two matches in the Six Nations era.

14th: Seán O’Brien’s 34th birthday, in exile but not forgotten.

Word of mouth

“Sexton says that he has suffered six concussions over the course of a 15-year professional career. He went through each of them with another neurologist last Thursday. Before Cardiff, the most recent one had been in November 2014.” – The Sunday Times.

Johnny Sexton was sidelined after suffering a concussion during the defeat to Wales last week. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Johnny Sexton was sidelined after suffering a concussion during the defeat to Wales last week. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

“Regarding my interview on Sexton, I did not want to talk about 30 concussions but concussions and sub-concussions… I should not have cited this figure without any explanation and regret the damage I have done to the player who was my patient and whom I respect more than anything.” – Dr Jean-François Chermann, neurosurgeon who stood Sexton down for 12 weeks in 2014/15.

SOS Zebo SOS

David Nucifora – the high priest of Irish rugby – has extended his annual trip home to Australia by a few weeks. Makes sense. Sure, all the contract negotiating is being done on zoom and there is not much happening in Dublin at the moment. It’s damp and freezing.

Six Nations weather. But no worries on that front because the management team Nucifora appointed and then added to with Mick Kearney, Gary Keegan and most recently Paul O’Connell, appear to have got a handle on what needs doing.

Or at least that is what it sounds like whenever Andy Farrell speaks. Okay, it does not look great that Ireland have never lost their opening two rounds in the tournament’s 21-year history.

Maybe another big name signing will silence the doubters? Is it time to unfurl the “Bring Zeebs Home” banner at the Aviva stadium?

“I am very close to having made a decision,” said the Racing fullback. “Both options have their good side: I love my life in Paris, I would like to help Racing win the Champions Cup, but the idea of one day playing again in Munster and playing in the World Cup is also very attractive. I think I’ll settle all of that next week.”

Zebo, still only 30, would be a welcome addition as Munster have yet to fill the void caused by his departure in 2018.

Leave it out, mate

Of all the weeks Freddie Burns didn’t need to be sticking his foot in it was in the wake of his baby brother’s nightmare at Cardiff.

Usually the English playing for Ireland pretend it is all above board. You know the line: this is not just a career move because one falls short of the standard to play on the mainland and had to shift over to the colonies to earn a living. Even Tony Cascarino played along until the book.

Billy Burns takes a kick during the loss to France. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Billy Burns takes a kick during the loss to France. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

How on earth Freddie thought the following exchange on Irish radio would benefit his brother, knowing full well he was wearing 10 against France in a Test match, we do not know.

Your dad’s father is from Cork, is that connection?

“Yep,” Freddie told Newstalk. “Well, I think it is Dublin or something, mate. It is one of them. We used to go over. We got plenty of family in Dublin. I know what you Irish are like, you are all over the place, in’t you?

“It’s quite funny, mate, I see myself very much as English obviously, I know, especially my old man, with his father being Irish, to see Bill represent the country of his dad fills him with immense pride. We are very blessed to be a family that has got that sort of title but…”

The cheeky-chappy routine somewhat covers the “I know what you Irish are like” face plant but Freddie was in his flow.

“…you see it all the time don’t you?” adds Freddie. “Look at the Scotland team at the minute, half of them are English so, it don’t really matter.”

Five caps apiece, Billy Burns has earned a sixth.

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