Sport Comment & Analysis

Sunday 21 September 2014

George Hook: A failure on so many levels

Published 25/02/2013 | 04:00

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Peter O'Mahony, Donnacha Ryan, Ronan O'Gara, Mike Ross, Luke Marshall, Rory Best, Brian O'Driscoll and Sean O'Brien leave the pitch after defeat by Scotland

Ireland imploded in the most dramatic fashion at Murrayfield when they succeeded in losing to the worst Scottish team in decades. Declan Kidney's team lost despite having nearly 80pc possession, and as the game ground to its predictable conclusion one felt that Ireland would not have won this match if they had 95pc possession such was the inadequacy of their attacking game.

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Paddy Jackson will have to bear a fair amount of responsibility for this loss but that is not a fair analysis of what happened. The coach and captain were complicit in this awful performance.

Kidney picked an out-half that does not have the confidence of his provincial coach as a place kicker. In fact, in an interview before the game Mark Anscombe gave a less than ringing endorsement of the young man. An imaginative coach could have picked a place-kicker to take the pressure off Jackson. Selecting Fergus McFadden on the wing in front of the severely limited Keith Earls would have meant Ireland winning at a canter.

Jamie Heaslip's captaincy was simply awful with his decision to kick to the corner rather than taking the six points on offer in the early stages of the game giving the woeful Scots a lifeline that continued for the next 75 minutes. Speaking afterwards, Rob Kearney suggested the kicks were not within easy range.

The problem was that they would have been in easy range for any legitimate kicker but not for the player in the No 10 shirt.

Even allowing for Jackson's return of one successful kick out of five, Ireland should have been out of sight at half-time. Near certain try chances were butchered. In a pre-rehearsed move, Earls cut the Scottish defence open and then unbelievably decided to go wide when in every rehearsal to date the angle of attack would have been straight, so leading to the ball being delivered to the tracking Brian O'Driscoll.

Luke Marshall did likewise for one of his breaks. O'Driscoll runs the best support lines of any player in the world and it is incomprehensible that his teammates, however inexperienced, would not have been aware he was on their shoulder.

If the promotion of Jackson made the headlines this week, then the selection of Tom Court was shown to be a disaster. The coach had overlooked the obvious replacement in Dave Kilcoyne.

Court was destroyed from the first scrum and Ireland achieved parity at the set-piece only when Scotland were reduced to seven men. To compound the problem, the line-out stuttered and Rory Best had the worst throwing day of his career.

One can only surmise what effect Kidney's extraordinary selection had on the squad. It is hard to explain O'Driscoll's lack of involvement. For 80 minutes he appeared to be going through the motions without any confidence in the people inside and outside.

So too with Ronan O'Gara; it is impossible to quantify how much his confidence was damaged by being relegated at the expense of a player he knew in his heart and soul was not in his class.

Yet it seemed as if the script was written for a wonderful finale by a player who so often has snatched victory from defeat. All seemed well when he put in a beautiful kick for Luke Fitzgerald, who sadly could not collect. But then his game and maybe his international career ended with the well-intentioned but poorly executed tactical kick for the centres.

One would not need to be a genius to work out what was said in the team meeting before this game. Clearly the kicking had to be accurate to prevent the much-vaunted Scottish back three from making progress; the defensive inadequacies of the Scottish midfield could be exploited; and the team needed to get in front to calm the nerves of the rookies.

The kicking from Jackson, Kearney, Craig Gilroy, and the box kicking of Conor Murray, was too long and without direction. The Scottish midfield was predictably poor but the dreadful Irish finishing allowed them off the hook. And the captain's decisions to turn down kicks at goal meant his team never had the comfort of a worthwhile lead.

On first viewing, Ireland lost because Jackson missed his kicks and because the backs couldn't score tries. In reality, what cost Ireland was a massive failure in leadership. Neither the captain nor the No 10 exuded authority. Those failures were not the fault of the individual players but the fault of the coach who selected people to do a job for which they were manifestly unprepared.

There are 23 people involved in the management of this team. Les Kiss, who had a reasonable reputation as a defence coach, was handed the task of manufacturing an attacking plan, a job clearly beyond his powers. Scrum coach Greg Feek must have advised his boss that Court was a better scrummager than Kilcoyne. And kicking coach Mark Tainton must have known that Jackson's goal kicking was not enough to guarantee even an average performance.

It is unlikely Kidney and his team can survive this disaster. One shudders to think what a resurgent France might do in two weeks' time. Ireland's best bet could be that Philippe Saint-Andre is an even worse selector than Kidney. Should Ireland fail in the Aviva then they would not be short odds to beat Italy in Rome for the wooden spoon.

Irish Independent

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