David Kelly: Kidney needs to produce statement of intent
Published 19/03/2012 | 05:00
AT times last Saturday, it looked as if the Celtic Tiger had returned with a vengeance, as thousands of green-clad supporters thronged Twickenham's imposing stadium.
On closer examination, you realised most of them had left the old country for good; economic exiles, some of them had labelled themselves.
"Just like the 1980s, isn't it?" joked one.
Indeed. The last time Ireland's scrum was picked apart here in such a humiliating fashion was in 1986 when Dean Richards crashed over for two tries.
Poor Paul Kennedy was the scapegoat that day. The loose-head prop would never play another match for Ireland.
On Saturday, a lot more than one man was at fault, but Tom Court has taken much of the flak -- this fall guy was merely in the wrong position at the wrong time.
Much of the focus has quite rightly been on the farcical, decade-long management of Irish resources in one of the sport's most crucial positions of tight-head prop -- Sean O'Brien quite rightly alluded to the point that no matter how good or how many back-rowers a team has, if they're going backwards, they ain't worth a dime.
In effect, this game was truly about the scrum and nothing else -- gloriously, the set-piece remains relevant in the game and success in that area can augment even the most ordinary of international sides.
For England are an ordinary side. Ireland, without their two Lions captains and tight-head prop, are now clearly something similar -- at least more often than not.
A campaign featuring only wins against the perennial championship lightweights, Italy and Scotland, once more represents a performance below par, a point conceded by O'Brien.
"Not good enough," he blasted. And neither was the World Cup, he could have added. And last year's Six Nations.
As Stuart Lancaster spoke eloquently about humility and team values, having lifted a team's confidence from the floor, you recalled how Declan Kidney mustered a similar effort back in the winter of '08.
We all know what happened next. But what has happened since? Kidney's contract expires midway through the World Cup cycle, so he needs to quickly rustle up another big statement in terms of coaching direction and a three-test trip to New Zealand will allow for little wriggle-room.
As the squad dispersed following this shambolic display, his was an extremely unhappy bunch of players who fronted up to shamefacedly apologise to the thousands of Irish supporters for such a miserable offering.
"The fact that it's St Patrick's Day makes it worse, without a doubt," said Tommy Bowe.
"The hype has been enormous since the very first week of the Six Nations; this has been the game everybody has been talking about. People have been on to me for tickets for so long and the script was written there for a good day. We've let ourselves down and let the Irish people down."
O'Brien, declaring this his worst day ever in a green jersey, was equally abrupt.
"It's pretty embarrassing to be honest. We're not too pleased about. It's a hard one to take. We got blown away in our scrum and things led on from there really."
A simple tale, no less horrific in its retelling. From that first set-piece, when Mike Ross' neck reportedly crumbled under the pressure, Ireland were in retreat mode, but, such was this English side's limitations, a 9-6 half-time lead seemed eminently negotiable.
Grievous inconsistency has dogged this team since the beacon of predictability that attached itself to Kidney's first full unbeaten campaign in charge.
Too often these days, the only thing this Irish team has become consistently good at is bemoaning their inconsistency.
"Consistency is always a problem," said Bowe, alarmingly. "I think we are a top team and I think we have showed it. Today, we maybe could have and should have been playing for a Grand Slam.
"We were ahead against Wales, despite not playing that well, and we were ahead against France, but stupid, bad second halves have cost us in the campaign. Coming in at half-time is normally where we're really strong.
"The year we won the Grand Slam, half-time was when we really took it on to the next level, but this year that's where we've lost it a little bit. I think that's down to ourselves really. That's where we need to pick it up and that's where the provinces are doing it.
"I hate saying we're not far off, but I think at times we've really shown that we're better than these times. We're good enough to compete, but just consistency is the big thing that's letting us down."
At half-time in the Heineken Cup final, Greg Feek wrought a remarkable transformation in the Leinster scrum against a similarly dominant Northampton side; without Ross, his work was rendered redundant on Saturday.
"The front-rowers did change a couple of things," said O'Brien. "We got a couple of good hits on them at times. They were coming at us with second shunts. When they really got a good hit on us, they just went straight through us.
"The ball was rolling then and it's hard to stop that momentum. I've never been involved in a game like that where the scrum has been so dominant for one side. It's hard."
Another eerie Twickenham memory loomed into view this weekend, of 2008 and an England side with a gifted young out-half, Danny Cipriani, destroying an Ireland team that had underperformed at the previous World Cup.
On that occasion, the Irish coach didn't survive the spring. Funnily enough, neither did the English coach or nout-half. England won't make the same mistake again.
In contrast, Ireland will muddle through, desperately hoping that Kidney can inspire his players for another isolated big day out this summer. In the unlikely event of being without O'Driscoll, O'Connell and Ross, the summer tour could be even more daunting.
"That performance today is a complete let-down and as a team we know we're a whole lot better," said Bowe. "Every individual has to look at themselves over the next three months. We're going to have to pick ourselves up and take it on to another level if we're not to be made a joke of down in New Zealand."
Ireland must desperately hope that Saturday's comedy of errors bears few portents of the potential pitfalls to come in the back garden of the world champions.