TV View: Smacked bum might be the tough love Ireland needs
A day that started off way too giddy ended with a reality check for Joe Schmidt’s side
England’s Jonny May scores their first try despite the attempted tackle of Garry Ringrose during the Six Nations match at the Aviva stadium. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Only 90 seconds in and Jonny May was punching the air in celebration after his try and you sensed the afternoon/evening ahead might be quite a lengthy one. Indeed, so pumped up were our visitors you’d swear we’d provoked them by following Amhrán na bhFiann and Ireland’s Call with Ode to Joy, while turning up in blue jerseys bedecked with gold stars.
“It’s turning ugly at this stage,” said Alan Quinlan when Henry Slade made it 30-13, by which time there were chariots swinging all around the stadium, our Athenry fields lying inaudibly low – November 17th, 2018 suddenly seeming like a couple of decades ago.
Matt Williams tried to reassure us come full-time. “It’s not the end of the world, it’s just a reality check,” he said, echoing Joe Schmidt’s post-match thoughts. But it didn’t work, our hearts were in smithereens having strutted in to the fixture like we owned the sport of rugby.
A case in point: The actor Jason O’Mara spotted a comment under a story headlined ‘England Adds Experienced Joseph To Squad Ahead of Ireland Clash’ that read: “They will need to add Jesus and Mary as well to have any hope.”
When Henry made it 30-13 it was a case of ‘Mother of Jesus’.
In fairness to him, Joe Molloy had a slight sense of foreboding. “Your confidence unsettles me,” he said to his collection of pundits, Matt, Ronan O’Gara, Shane Horgan, Shane Jennings and David Wallace, all of whom were taking nothing for granted other than an Irish victory.
‘Bah humbug’ was the gist of the response from those of us perched on the couches of Ireland, Dave McIntyre reinforcing our belief in the Team of Us when he told us that “I can’t ever recall more confidence around an Irish side”.
But then the match started and it turned in to the shape of a pear.
Feverishly frenetic it was, no more than the referee you’d have been gasping for air through that first-half tussle, although so heavy was Jerome Garces’s breathing down his microphone, if you’d heard it down your phone you’d have been calling the Garda.
“Worrying times,” said Joe come half-time when the Sassenachs were leading 17-10, Ronan conceding that “Ireland are now the hunted”. “Let’s see how they react.”
Not tremendously well, as it proved. Brian O’Driscoll, over on ITV, somehow maintaining his composure while sitting alongside a purring Clive Woodward and Jonny Wilkinson and conceding that Ireland were blessed to only lose 20-32, a scoreline, he said, that “flattered” them.
It was the mother of all crash landings, really, Alan suggesting that the Irish team needed to go “back to the drawing board . . . a bit,” before suggesting there was “no need to panic”. But if you have to return to the drawing board, even a bit, that’s the definition of panic.
“We got our bums smacked, well and truly, by a superior team,” said Matt, “England kicked us off the park.” The Henshaw-at-fullback experiment? “I’ve seen milk turn faster than Robbie did today.” Sour, that.
Can it be all that long ago that we were the cat that got the cream?
Ronan called for calm, specifically on the fullback issue. “You don’t throw a fella overboard after one bad performance,” he said, reckoning lifebelts weren’t required just yet.
The most encouraging thing about the post-mortem was that ‘learnings’ didn’t get a mention, because if they did that’d have been us pushed over the edge. If we, as a nation, can one day agree that any mention of learnings should result in 20 years without the possibility of parole, then we’d be a better people.
“It has been a sobering day in Dublin,” Joe concluded, the pre-match giddiness now replaced by an atmosphere that bordered on the funereal. “It’s do or die next week in Murrayfield,” he added, Irish rugby now close enough to wearing a black tie.
“They’re human beings, it happens,” Matt interjected, reminding us that November 17th, 2018 was actually a wet week ago. And there is the distinct possibility that a mullering by England might yet prove to be the lads’ most useful result ahead of that trip to Japan.
You can’t, after all, beat a reality check. Even if the crash-landing leaves your smacked bum aching.