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Wednesday 16 August 2017

Performance took the spring out of our step

Weird Wide World of Sport

A dejected Robbie Henshaw following Ireland's defeat by Scotland
A dejected Robbie Henshaw following Ireland's defeat by Scotland

Dave Devereux

I awoke on Sunday to a beautiful, crisp February morning, the sort of start to a day that would have you belting out a well-known classic from 'Oklahoma' with the gusto of a Tadhg Furlong tackle.

Given that the deluge of the previous few days forced a postponement of much of the local sporting action, it afforded me the opportunity of going for a nice brisk walk instead of getting that sinking feeling on a mucky, weather-beaten sideline.

You can't beat a good stroll in the countryside to rid a foggy mind of any haziness and get the blood flowing to such a degree that you're like a brain-box contestant on Mastermind able to answer some of life's great questions: what's the meaning of existence, what is a space time continuum, and how did Ireland manage to make such a monumental balls-up of it in their Six Nations opener against Scotland?

Before I'm accused of being one of those twisted troll types, who sits there waiting to pounce and rubs their hand gleefully like Mr. Burns counting his money when a team loses, I was fulsome in my praise of Ireland when they toppled the All Blacks a few months back.

Also given that the Six Nations was far and away the biggest sporting topic on these shores at the weekend, I was always going to give my tuppence worth on it, whether it be the fist pump of a win, the body slump of a loss or a shoulder-shrugging draw.

As is our wont on this fair isle, the belief that our momentous win over New Zealand was a sort of coming of age was given far too much credence, with some even putting it up there with our country's greatest-ever sporting achievements.

Sometimes we need to just take a step back, take a deep breath and look at the bigger picture.

The win over the All Blacks was unquestionably a fantastic achievement, but as we painfully found out on Saturday, tournament rugby is a whole different ball game.

Of course, Scotland are no mugs, having recently beaten Argentina and going oh so close to toppling Australia in the World Cup and again in the autumn, but it was a game Joe Schmidt's men simply had to win.

When Ireland limped out of the World Cup at the quarter-final stage with a heavy defeat against Argentina in the autumn of 2015 I had the audacity to point out that anybody suggesting we had a decent tournament was living in cloud cuckoo land and simply celebrating failure.

My meanderings drew criticism from some quarters but I vehemently stick by those sentiments, and if Ireland stutter at the same stage in two years' time, I would describe it exactly the same.

Never going beyond the last eight in the tournament when the world's decent rugby playing nations can be counted on your fingers is, to put it mildly, disappointing and something that has to be put right sooner rather than later.

For some die-hards a rousing win over France was enough to paper over the cracks, but victories are worth nothing unless you can back them up with consistency.

When it comes to our national rugby side, some supporters tend to be very precious, but no team should be sheltered from criticism and, in the main, the Irish rugby squad get an easy ride from the media and public alike.

Rugby, like most other sports, has become more about systems, structures and rigid gameplans than individual brilliance and flair, so much so that any player's mistakes are magnified ten-fold and similar to our capitulation in the World Cup against Argentina a slow start proved extremely costly.

The Irish team have given us some glorious days in recent times but without question one Grand Slam and a few championships is not a great return for a so-called golden generation of players.

Even in the unlikely event that Ireland do go on to win the tournament this year, it will still be tinged with what-ifs. If only Ireland had done the right things at the right times against Scotland we'd be celebrating a Grand Slam instead of a championship, although at this stage three wins out of our remaining games would be probably about the best we could hope for.

That said, if Ireland can resurrect a tournament challenge from the ashes of Saturday's defeat the spring would certainly return to the nation's step and give us all something to sing about.

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