COMPARING what was happening between the All Blacks and Australia in the Bledisloe Cup earlier in the day to Murrayfield was akin to matching Leinster’s poor pre-season form at Donnybrook last August against what went on in the Heineken Cup final.
It is incongruous, irrelevant and useless to the overall picture. Ireland’s World Cup mission is still in pre-season mode. The players are still wiping the sleep from their eyes.
The hemispheres are at opposite ends of their season cycles. Ireland are starting in the trough. New Zealand and Australia are closer to the peak. Common sense dictates ‘our antipodean friends' will not find too much improvement – let’s face it they don’t have to – whereas Ireland will be transformed into an unrecognisable beast by the start of next month. At least, we hope. The strange nature of these quasiinternationals is reflected in the certain fact that Ireland coach Declan Kidney would have been secretly far happier with Ireland’s defeat than Andy Robinson was with Scotland’s 10-6 win in the Scottish capital.
The hoopla over the turgid rugby produced in Edinburgh is irrelevant. Kidney travelled with a second XV and came up four points short against a close to full-strength Scotland. They suffered no serious injury setback. Not bad. Not bad at all – despite the pre-match bluster about respecting the currency of an international match.
In essence, this was nothing more than a journey to match fitness and a way back into the game for fullback Robert Kearney, scrum-half Tomás O’Leary and hooker Jerry Flannery. All three were committed and up to speed physically and mentally. Kearney’s handling was certain and his footwork was eye-catching. Kidney appears to see Kearney as his number one option for the 15 jersey. He gave away as much when conceding, “I know where I want to go with it over the next week or two”.
The coach could have given Munster’s Felix Jones time there. Instead, he opted to remove Luke Fitzgerald from the fray. Clearly, Kearney is in greater need of game time than Fitzgerald. BLADE O’Leary covered every blade. This will come as bad news to Leinster’s duo Eoin Reddan and Isaac Boss. The Corkman’s lung-bursting capacity and tenacity are intact. If he can spin a better service, he could leapfrog from fifth to first choice.
Flannery started by losing his first lineout and then flying head-first into the first ruck. There is a three-way tie between the hard-charging son of Limerick, his county colleague Sean Cronin and Rory Best. An injury-free Flannery will add depth. That’ll do for Kidney. Blindside newcomer Mike McCarthy made a sound impact. He is a good enough athlete. Is he smart enough to read the game and make the split-second adjustments? This is open to question. He deserves another shot at it.
The naivety of Fergus McFadden in rushing out of the line to invite Scotland forward for Joe Ansbro’s match-winning intervention once again highlighted the critical importance of Brian O’Driscoll.
All McFadden had to do, with two minutes left on the clock, was remain steady as a link in the defensive chain and cover his area. He didn’t. And the game was lost. It was a lesson learned for the Kildare man.