D'Arcyl et down by O'Driscoll and his team-mates
Published 19/02/2011 | 05:00
Once upon a time, priests, bank managers and teachers were figures of respectability in the community and not open to criticism. The exposes of the recent past have, in many cases unfairly, reduced their standing among us.
Now it seems the figures coated in Teflon appear to be our sporting superstars. In rugby, the merest hint of criticism of Munster in their pomp was considered treasonable; the Irish captain never had a bad game; and certain forwards were deemed to have got through a vast amount of unseen work. Although how, if it was unseen, it could be rated, always remained a mystery.
The constant refrain following the game against France was that Gordon D'Arcy should be dropped after his perceived failure in the tackle against Aurelien Rougerie.
The Leinster centre has been unfairly treated and was hugely let down by his captain and team-mates in the French attack that led to the crucial try.
Eddie O'Sullivan always believed that defence was not about tackling, but tackling the right man. As the French scrum formed, the Irish back-line took up an extraordinary formation. Jonny Sexton stood way inside his opposite number and gave himself no chance of pressurising Francois Trinh-Duc, unless the French fly-half decided to cut back inside. That area is invariably the province of the back-row and not Sexton.
Unbelievably, Keith Earls stood 20 yards in from the touchline and ignored Yoann Huget, who stood alone and unmarked.
It was another example of what former Irish and Lions wing Niall Brophy calls the "bet you a fiver you cannot beat me on the outside" defence. Yet all afternoon the French plan had been to put players in space out wide with the minimum number of passes.
D'Arcy was now about to be exposed by his fly-half, who moved too late, and his captain Brian O'Driscoll, who moved too early. When Trinh-Duc received the ball from the scrum he was already away from Sexton and moving into D'Arcy's area.
D'Arcy was already covering Damien Traille, so he faced two players. Meanwhile, O'Driscoll took off towards Maxime Medard, who had replaced Clement Poitrenaud at full-back, leaving a gaping hole for Rougerie. Earls stood transfixed like a cobra facing a mongoose and both he and the captain now covered the full-back; Rougerie did not need a written invitation to make the break.
D'Arcy now had to move to his left to fill the hole and, not unsurprisingly, was beaten by a big man running at speed at his shoulder. Had the Irish defence followed normal protocol, O'Driscoll would have been faced with a straightforward head-on tackle, meat and drink to him.
Interestingly, because of Earls' poor positioning, the French would probably have scored anyway through Huget.
If Alfred Hitchcock had made a movie of the try, he would have had D'Arcy as the innocent fugitive fleeing the bloodthirsty critics while his three accomplices spent their ill-gotten gains.
Ireland were beaten by a better team but could have won with a better game plan. Declan Kidney's team entered a football contest with a ball but no foot. Incredibly, both half-backs could not, unlike Trinh-Duc and Morgan Parra, kick the ball for territory or to create pressure.
Sexton on a solitary occasion hoofed the ball upfield where it was easily handled and Tomas O'Leary kicked deplorably all afternoon.
Accepted wisdom has it that Sexton has a kicking game, although we have yet to see it for Ireland. Meanwhile, O'Leary has never been able to kick or pass -- the primary functions of a scrum-half.
In the past, any suggestion that the scrum-half had failings was dismissed in Munster as bias and the player continued to play with apparently no attempt to improve his performance.
In successive games, the arrival of Ronan O'Gara has coincided with a revival in Ireland's fortunes.
Sooner or later the penny may drop that what he does in cameo he might do in a starring role. The usual calumny will be repeated that he cannot tackle. At least he stands in the right place and puts his body on the line.
The on-field role of the captain must be questioned. Ireland's back play was predictable and lateral. It was predicated by an over-reliance on the loop around O'Driscoll. Worse, it was often practised in a confined space close to the touchline, with the predictable result of pushing the outside player out of play.
It must be presumed that O'Driscoll is calling the shots. Why did he not direct his fly-half to kick for position? Why does everything have to go through him? Why as the pre-eminent centre in world rugby does he not use himself as a decoy to create space for others?
There is no braver and more committed player than O'Driscoll in the Irish squad, yet his record shows that he has often tried too hard to win the match by himself rather than have faith in others.
Ireland lost a winnable match by a systems failure rather than the more readily obvious mistakes by individuals. Murrayfield will determine the Irish season. Some serious analysis, rather than media sound bites, is required.