Ireland lacking any wit or vision
Published 14/03/2011 | 09:31
Ireland lost to Wales in Cardiff because of their own ineptitude and lack of strategic thinking rather than any failure by incompetent officials.
Despite the body blow of Mike Phillips' try, Ireland could have drawn level almost immediately but they did not and then blew a gilt-edged chance to win in the final minute.
It is important that the vehemence of the players' anger at the supposed injustice is not allowed to mask the massive failures in player skills and management organisation that beset Ireland rugby.
This is a team in denial. For them, the fault is always elsewhere. First it was Twitter, then the media and no doubt this week it will be the officials.
True, it was an officiating shambles that gave Wales seven points but Ireland were awful and today are little more than two licks of paint of a goalpost away from being four losses out of four.
Shakespeare is hardly required reading for rugby players but they could do worse than Julius Caesar and his injunction that "the fault, dear Brutus lies not in the stars, but in ourselves that we are underlings".
A tetchy Declan Kidney did himself no favours in the after-match interview when he said, "Wales scored more points than us", in response to the reasonable question of how did we lose this match.
He also reacted badly to the suggestion that the substitution of Ronan O'Gara led to the defeat. The coach may dress it up all he likes but it was an awful decision. O'Gara was there to close out a winning position, Jonathan Sexton to chase a game.
The result was that the unfortunate substitute sliced a kick to touch and then missed a sitter of a penalty that one sensed the more experienced fly-half would have nailed with confidence.
If Ireland seriously believed their own hype about being the better team and committed to an open game, why did they oppose the closing of the roof with rain forecast?
The answer was not long coming. The Irish game plan was simplistic in the extreme. O'Gara kicked for position and the forwards trundled on from one laborious breakdown to the next.
It worked almost at once when, after repetitive forward charges, Tommy Bowe's power and pace allied to Brian O'Driscoll's unerring timing led to a simple score.
A good side would have pushed on from there but Ireland are without wit or vision. Two weeks ago, they were unable to put a dreadful Scotland away and in Cardiff, Wales were mutton dressed up as lamb. Both sides had little to offer except putting boot to ball; there was a kick a minute, but Wales did it better.
Warren Gatland's plan was to kick the ball as far as possible, confident in the knowledge that the opponents would not or could not counter-attack.
Luke Fitzgerald was simply awful and discovered that winning Schools Cup medals on St Patrick's Day is very different from playing with the big boys. On Saturday, he could not pass, kick or catch and once again demonstrated that he simply does not inspire confidence under a high ball.
It is a big comedown for the nation of Kiernan, Ensor and McNeill. Had Rob Kearney been fit he would have done the easy part of catching the pig skin but he too would have added nothing to the team's counter-attack.
Referee Jonathan Kaplan is now a certainty for the Rugby World Cup final. On Saturday he solved the scrum problem by the simple expedient of binning the law book and ignoring knocks-on and forward passes.
It produced a game of just three scrums and rapid movement which must have had his boss Paddy O'Brien purring in the grandstand. It was a vision of what the IRB sees as the future of the game and the South African referee is its John the Baptist.
The change begs the question of whether Ireland need two giant locks with doubtful handling, little pace and an inability to break the gain line.
Paul O'Connell and Donncha O'Callaghan are anachronisms in the modern game. There is now an urgent need to move players such as Kevin McLaughlin and Stephen Ferris into the second-row in time for the autumn in New Zealand. A dynamic ball-carrier partnering O'Connell would make a more effective combination.
Similar and radical surgery is needed in the back-row. Just twice on Saturday was Sean O'Brien given the opportunity to bullock his way past defenders in open field. One suspects that at Leinster those opportunities would multiply threefold. O'Brien's commitment brought the increasingly peripheral involvement of Jamie Heaslip into focus.
The term 'world-class No 8' for Heaslip is merely a negotiating tool for his agent, while for Sergio Parisse it means leadership, talent, courage and skill. The Italian is a beacon for his colleagues to follow; Heaslip is just another green shirt in a morass of mediocrity.
Paranoia follows this team like a plague. The captain had the effrontery to accuse Wales of being negative as they attempted to close out the game with eight minutes remaining.
Yet, it is certain that he was cheering in front of his plasma screen when Munster did precisely the same thing to Toulouse in the Heineken Cup in 2008. So too would his team have shunned risk if they had the luxury of being six points clear.
There can be no progress for Ireland until they embrace reality.
Next week's England game is now part of the four-match warm-up series in the summer. The first steps in preparation must be taken now or Kidney will go down in history with Mick Doyle, Warren Gatland and Eddie O'Sullivan as Irish coaches that presided over World Cup disasters.
Italy in Dunedin could join Wellington (1987), Lens ('99) and Paris (2007) as graveyards for Ireland's hopes for glory.