March 22, 2012
Posted on 03/22/2012
The Six Nations has ran its course and a deserving Welsh outfit are Grand Slam Champions for 2012. For Ireland however, it’s been a terrible championship and it cumulated in being torn apart by a superior English outfit.
The Irish scrum was obliterated. I’ve heard of snowballs in hell that performed better than the Irish pack – the loss of Mike Ross was a blow but even with the big Leinster tighthead in the front row, Ireland still failed to push forward or find any promise against an English scrum that was rampant. It was very clear early on that there would be no luck for the Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, indeed St. Patrick is famed for driving the snakes out of Ireland but had he been in Twickenham last weekend not even he could have drove that Irish scrum forward. It was painful to watch.
The first half remarkably ended 9-6, thanks to Sexton’s boot and a something from nothing moment on the brink of halftime from Donnacha Ryan to win a penalty. None the less everyone watching knew that the scrum was getting dominated and it was never going to be a second half were Ireland would bounce back and take the game to England.
The pain hit peak level when England were awarded a penalty try by Nigel Owens in the 58th minute, and rightfully so. It may be cheating to consider this thought, but, Ireland would have fared better by faking an injury in the front row and allowing the game to go to uncontested scrums. I’m not saying any team or club should do this, it is a horrible idea, but it would be dishonest of me if I didn’t say I was thinking of it as a way of putting the struggling pack out of its misery.
The defeat to England was embarrassing, it will leave fans players and coaches licking their wounds for quite some time. Losing by 30-9 is a hard pill to swallow but when you look at the game, 27 points for England can be directly traced to the scrum. So much for that solid set piece Ireland had built up.
I don’t like being overly critical of any team and while my previous posts have certainly had negative tones, I feel every fan has a right to expectation and in an overwhelming majority that expectation has been failed since winning a Grand Slam. If you look at Wales as a parallel to Ireland it is clear something is not right. At provincial/club level Ireland are a tour de force in European rugby. A single Celtic league title for the Ospreys in the past five years is the main highlight of Welsh club rugby. They’ve had no club reach a Heineken cup final since 1996 while Irish teams have won four of the last six Heineken Cup’s, three of the last four Celtic Leagues and look on course to continue with success this season with Munster, Ulster and defending H-Cup champions, Leinster.
It’s at national level we see the difference. Both countries have a small enough talent pool to choose from. Wales have a population of about 3 million people, Ireland (& Northern Ireland because it is a united national side) have a combined population of around 6 million. Ireland have managed two Grand Slams in their history, the most recent obviously being 1999, before that it was the legendary side of 1948.
Wales have now won three in eight years - in their history they have 10. Looking at that alone for me says Ireland must look at their structure and try to figure out where to develop from. This batch of players has been touted as world beaters and some of the best individual talents in the world and yet at test level they don’t seem to have that extra bit of bite needed to be clinical.
Ireland have now advertised the position of an elite scrum coach but this won’t solve the issues. At tighthead Ireland lack depth at a major level. Tom Court has been given a lot of flack for being poor but looking at it deeper, Court is a loosehead converted into tighthead. Besides Mike Ross, Ireland do not have another specialised tighthead at international level. There was a monumental amount of time put into developing Tony Buckley which never came to fruition. This is where the spark comes to ignite the debate on the IRFU’s policies regarding contracts and game time but, to use a cliché, that’s a whole different ball game.
The problems Ireland face are not insurmountable, they can be addressed. It seems the issues and problems Ireland feared all manifested through this England game and now the fear is a knee jerk reaction. The disappointment of the loss to England covers the entire tournament. Losing an opening game to Wales with a last minute penalty, a missed opportunity in Paris and being destroyed by England, give very little in the way of encouragement going forward.
I’ve made no secret of my dislike to how Declan Kidney operates and his team selection ideas. There must now be question marks over Kidney, barring 2009 he has failed. Ireland have gone from a top three ranked nation to eighth under Kidney. The lowest Ireland have ever featured since the inception of the world rankings almost 10 years ago.
The Six Nations is over for another year. Yet again it is disappointment for Ireland - at club level the players will go back and kick on and hopefully end the season on a high note – but come the summer the team heads off to New Zealand to face a summer tour against the world champions. Ireland have never beaten New Zealand, I get the feeling some of the players won’t be too optimistic boarding that flight.