Running game argument now on its last legs
Published 07/02/2011 | 05:00
The red carpet was laid out for Ireland on Saturday.
As the Irish supporters left the Piazza Del Popolo to begin the languorous, sun-drenched walk to the stadium, an extensive stretch of carpet decorated the tattered footpaths on Via Flaminia. Halfway down, there was suddenly no carpet. Typically, one can picture a couple of Italians shrugging their shoulders and walking off the job, leaving the whole thing looking a little half-assed.
Ireland's problems on Saturday presented something similar.
Sure, they supposedly arrived with a game-plan -- answers on a postcard, please -- and they appeared to offer a much better attacking shape than before, but they were let down by unforgivably shoddy workmanship.
There was no pattern, no decipherable game-plan -- the fatuous excuse "we are trying to expand" is getting tired -- and for that this coaching staff, so lauded two years ago, must stand indicted as much as the players.
Ireland's trumpeted attempts to expand their play are deeply flawed. We have posed the question before in these pages whether there is enough natural skill and talent within this country to execute such a style.
The convenient escape route offered on Saturday was that at least chances were created. Ireland would have filleted the Italians had their captain's appalling pass not shaved the touch-judge's ear-piece.
But these are not new excuses. They are refashioned models of tired apologies dating back to the last World Cup; on the eve of the next global competition, should we be getting a little impatient?
By all accounts -- well, the coaches informed the nation this was so -- Ireland had an extremely productive week in training, with a "very accurate session" completing what the entire camp enthused had been a positive fortnight's training. Sadly, they left all the good work in Dublin Airport. Unless they are withholding a surfeit of surprise weaponry for the visit of the French -- a not entirely implausible concept in international rugby.
Ireland knew they would be defeated in a wrestling match on Saturday -- hence the unbalanced back-row, for example, which suffered from having three individualistic ball-carriers with no sympathy for support.
But in their attempts to avoid contact, they panicked in possession and their tactics -- no first-half kick from the pivot -- were misguided.
Ultimately, though, Ireland were undone by basic skill deficits. One would assume these can be eradicated: surely O'Driscoll and D'Arcy cannot perform as badly again?
Ireland turned over the ball about 20 times -- excluding the 13 penalties -- which is unconscionable in international rugby; France would seize on such opportunities with glee were they presented to them next Sunday.
That statistic alone would seem to utterly refute Ireland's theory that they can institute this elusive expansive approach. It is an admirable, laudable aim. But is it an impossible dream? Ireland have to expand but their error count must be reduced to the minimum and balance is required. "It can't be all run run run," observed Ronan O'Gara.