The Offload: The Ireland rugby team’s Icarus complex

The hits keep coming, and will keep on coming and coming, for clever Johnny Sexton

Joe Schmidt can’t quite put his finger on why Ireland have started this year’s Six Nations so poorly. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

Joe Schmidt can’t quite put his finger on why Ireland have started this year’s Six Nations so poorly. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

 

Ireland’s Icarus complex

History regularly parallels the Ireland rugby team with Icarus. Remember those delirious seconds following Gordon Hamilton’s try at Lansdowne road in 1991, until Michael Lynagh slipped a dagger into every local heart. Or the joy of Eden Park in 2011, after pounding the Wallabies into submission, until wily Warren Gatland figured out Declan Kidney’s “cup rugby” tactics.

Worst of all, there was the slow motion horrors of 2007. Shane Horgan certainly remembers.

“I am a little bit worried. It has a similar feeling I experienced myself at the 2007 World Cup. Things were going brilliantly in the Six Nations before that World Cup. Everything seemed to be fine but then a couple of things went wrong and we just couldn’t get it right. I’m not saying this group of players are in the same situation but there is a sense of that.”

Virgin Media switched back to Stadio Olimpico where Ireland captain Peter O’Mahony took the view that Conor O’Shea “is doing an incredible job” and that Italy “are a super rugby team.”

Horgan: “I don’t buy the first part of the interview. This is not a good Italian team. They haven’t improved at all. It’s the worst Italian team I’ve seen in ages.”

Nobody panic, Joe Schmidt will have answers. Remember how the small island mentality was vanquished in glorious fashion late last year. England provided the first opportunity to reinforce this newly discovered existence. “Bullied” and beaten out of the Aviva, trips to Edinburgh and now Rome have showcased a team struggling to fly. With singed wings. “I can’t put my finger on it at the moment,” said Schmidt. Oh dear.

By the numbers - 20: Ultan Dillane’s tackle count does a decent impression of the absent James Ryan.

Looking out for Sinckler

A tale of two huddles. After the Welsh tidal wave smashed England’s Grand Slam plan to smithereens, both captains gathered their men in circles of trust. Owen Farrell, despite his inability to alter a glaringly ineffective tactical approach, projected calmness.

“The talismanic ten tanked out of the action when England looked desperately to their leader for inspiration,” wrote former England outhalf Stuart Barnes about the incumbent.

Alun Wyn Jones had a considerably more difficult task controlling his huddle. Rob Evans kept interrupting the legendary lock while scrumhalf Gareth Davies looked more like a pitch invading fan when leaping on top of Evans. “Waheeeey!”

The last word from this emotional Cardiff affair belonged to Warren Gatland on Kyle Sinckler. The Lions tighthead had almost produced a defiant and monumental performance but Sinckler betrayed a phenomenal display by needlessly blocking Gareth Anscombe before foolishly choking AWJ.

“Look, it was two or three penalties that he’d given away at that stage,” said Gatland. “They obviously made a tactical substitution. He’s not my player. I did comment on him [pre-match]when asked the question. It wasn’t something I raised [still, Gatland labelled Sinckler an “emotional time-bomb”]. You know, everyone seen what we’ve all seen.”

Actually, Eddie Jones deserves the last word.

“I know you guys want to single him out because Warren said what he said but don’t be unfair to him, boys. He’s a young player on the way up. Look after him a bit.”

Quote of the week: “I can’t put my finger on it at the moment but we are going to have to sort a few things out before France, who were impressive yesterday, and I thought Wales were immense at home and we’ve got to go to Cardiff.” – Ireland coach, Joe Schmidt.

Hits keep coming for Sexton

Johnny Sexton being a clever and forthcoming soul, sat with Sunday newspaper journalists last week. The topic of conversation was always going to linger, like whichever prop or flanker is tasked with hurting Ireland’s prized possession, on one primary topic.

“What can I do? I’ve tried every sort of outcome possible. I’ve tried to stay down a little bit when I could get straight back up; I’ve tried to get straight back up; I’ve tried giving out to the ref; I’ve tried saying nothing; I’ve tried to react - I’ve tried to smack someone in the head which didn’t go too well. So what can you do?”

Finally, three games into the Six Nations, Sexton heard the words he’s been seeking for some time now when referee Glen Jackson stated, “Penalty, late shot on number 10.”

The 33-year-old did his best to have the reward reversed, presumably annoyed that Jackson did not punish Italian prop Andrea Lovotti with a yellow card.

“Johnny was angry when he came off because he’d just been hit three times off the ball,” said Schmidt.

Sexton was presumably angry for several reasons. France next, so the hits will keep coming.

Guaranteed.

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