Thursday 30 March 2017

Slack Ireland simply didn't display hunger for the fight

Scots driven by appetite for Triple Crown destruction, writes Jim Glennon

The final championship table certainly doesn't read as we might have wished. It has not been a successful couple of months for Declan Kidney and his management team; and that's nothing at all to do with it being a post-Grand Slam year.

Scotland finally showed yesterday they have the makings of a real team. Their back row of Kelly Brown, John Barclay, and Johnnie Beattie is as strong as they've had since the vintage days of Finlay Calder, John Jeffrey and Derek White in the early 90s, and with some added guile and real cutting edge behind the scrum, they'll be a force to be reckoned with.

They have a well-balanced, physical side with a quality place-kicker and aren't far short of being the finished article.

If they're a team on the up though, they are still short of top international quality and that is the context in which we must examine the Irish performance. Scotland's scrum, lineout and place-kicking were all much superior.

The back-row battle was always going to be central to the outcome and, to the more arrogant among us, to the margin by which we would win. The Scots were, however, much stronger physically in the collisions, and once the game settled down, after an opening period of almost Barbarian-style rugby, were very much on the front foot in this crucial area. Indeed, the appetite of their entire backline, and Morrison in particular, for counter-rucking was striking, and a major element in the outcome. Jamie Heaslip and Stephen Ferris were largely ineffective, leaving David Wallace ploughing a lonely furrow.

The signs were ominous from the kick-off. The 'roll up your sleeves and get down and dirty' attitude which delivered for us in the last two games wasn't at all evident, particularly in the crucial opening period. Despite some poor handling, wayward passes, and general sloppiness, all of which contributed to Scotland's unexpected early foothold, we contrived an early try for Brian O'Driscoll. On reflection, if that score hadn't come so easily, it may well have altered the mindset to the appropriate levels.

As it happened, that try may well have contributed to a continuation of the loose attitude which was, ultimately, a major component in the team's under-performance. The bookies had Ireland at

1/10 to win yesterday, and it was a fair reflection of the mood of the Irish rugby public. But what realistic basis was there for this?

This was a Scottish side which drew with England, which committed rugby harakiri to throw away a winning position in Cardiff, and which was made up largely of players from two teams who sit second and third in the Magners League.

The reality is that we've had an inconsistent championship. We failed to perform against either Scotland or France. Both of these teams beat us physically first, then on the scoreboard. Both were hungry for our scalp.

Rugby is a simple game -- but it's a lot simpler if you win the fight first.

jglennon@independent.ie

Sunday Independent

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