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25 steps to recover from the horrors of Hamilton


Brian O'Driscoll, left, and Declan Fitzpatrick, Ireland, after the game. Steinlager Series 2012, 3rd Test, New Zealand v Ireland, Waikato Stadium, Hamilton, New Zealand.

Brian O'Driscoll, left, and Declan Fitzpatrick, Ireland, after the game. Steinlager Series 2012, 3rd Test, New Zealand v Ireland, Waikato Stadium, Hamilton, New Zealand.

Brian O'Driscoll, left, and Declan Fitzpatrick, Ireland, after the game. Steinlager Series 2012, 3rd Test, New Zealand v Ireland, Waikato Stadium, Hamilton, New Zealand.

Most will say they saw it coming -- this contributor included -- but the 'blackwash' in New Zealand in June has left the Irish game in a strange and vulnerable place going into the new season.

Losing a first ever three-Test series between the countries to nil was nothing surprising. That raw statistic masks the reality of a second Test that got away, a match Ireland should have drawn.

However, what preceded that encouraging showing in Christchurch (42-10 in Auckland) and, particularly, what followed (60-0 in Hamilton) has done untold damage to Irish rugby and our image worldwide. That's over 100 points conceded in just two internationals.

Accepting a three-Test series at the end of a season in which the All Blacks became world champions was a recipe for disaster. It was everything we feared it might be -- and worse.

Of course there were some mitigating factors in terms of injury and withdrawals at the end of a long and largely successful season for the provinces.

Had we jumped on a plane after the second Test, as has traditionally been the case, it would have bettered the damage limitation we all feared. Instead, what we witnessed in Hamilton was arguably the worst Ireland performance since the game went professional.

We have been on the receiving end of All-Black thumpings of this magnitude in the past. Think 66-28 in New Plymouth in 2010, 63-15 at Lansdowne Road in 1997 or 59-6 at Wellington in the last of our amateur internationals out there in 1992. But therein lies the nub. That a professional team ranked seventh in the world could go 80 minutes without registering a point and concede seven tries in the process is simply unacceptable.

How we wish everyone involved could hurt like Brian O'Driscoll and express such shame in the immediate aftermath. It is a blot that cannot be removed from the career of our greatest ever player, but our first wish for the new season is that the horror of Hamilton is channelled in such a way as to mark a new and more positive approach to how we go about our business at the highest level.

Starting with the Autumn Internationals but in no particular order here is my wish list for 2012-13:

1 That we take a southern hemisphere scalp -- and not that of the Pumas. With due respect to South Africa and Argentina, I cannot think of two more unattractive Test matches to follow on from the disaster that was New Zealand.

2 That we embrace change and at least attempt a style of rugby that is not alone easier on the eye but also one with which we are clearly comfortable, as exemplified by Leinster under Joe Schmidt. And given that the Leinster coach is ultimately an employee of the IRFU, surely an agreement can be reached whereby he can be employed (even on a part-time basis) as Ireland's attack coach? That would enable Les Kiss to continue doing what he does best as defensive strategist. It might involve a little bit of reorganisation for Leinster but the needs of the national side override all others. And is it too much to ask that a full-time professional squad be asked to develop a brand of vibrant off loading rugby as exemplified by New Zealand and appropriate to the ever-changing laws?

3 That the already over-hyped Lions element to the season is kept under wraps. If provincial and international form is up to scratch, then Lions selection will look after itself. For players in this part of the world, Lions selection is the ultimate individual honour, but it is a meaningless concept when measured against national success.

4 That Connacht rugby continues to grow in the same way as the other three provinces. Every young boy of Connacht descent must harbour the aspiration of wearing the green of both Connacht and Ireland.

5 That timekeepers exercise much more diligent control of the reset clock at scrum time. As of now there is much too much time being eaten up by boring reset scrum after reset scrum.

6 I would like to see Declan Kidney initiate change, with age and inexperience no barrier to selection. If form warrants selection, then no other factor should come into play. The pressure is building on Kidney post-New Zealand and no one knows that more than the man himself. I would urge the IRFU to loosen the shackles and allow the head coach room for measured experiment in the upcoming November series.

7 That the GAA's 2013 Congress passes the motion (unanimously proposed by Central Council) to amend Rule 5 in the country's interest, thereby making stadia available to the IRFU in the bid to host the 2023 or 2027 World Cup. As an unbiased sports lover, irrespective of the shape of the ball, unveiling our magnificent facilities to the world (and the financial spin-off it would entail) is surely win-win all round.

8 That the IRFU reassess the number of representative underage teams being fielded by the provinces. In Leinster alone we have U-18 schools, U-18 clubs (youths), U-19 Blue and U-19 White as well as U-20 teams all lining out. The justification will of course be the all-embracing 'screening' but the reality is the demeaning of the underage representative honour and far too many young players getting a distorted impression of their ability and potential.

9 That the encouraging soundings down south come to fruition under impressive new coach Rob Penney. Under Penney and Simon Mannix, not forgetting Anthony Foley or Niall O'Donovan, the intention is to marry traditional Munster values with Penney's refreshingly expansive views on the game. Penney says: "I like the ball to be utilised and the players to express themselves. I don't want to remove what has served Munster so well for so long, but hopefully the end product will be something of which Munster folk will be really proud." I like what I hear from the new main man at Thomond.

10 That common ground and common sense prevail in the threatening stand-off between France, England and the rest in the Heineken Cup. There are issues on both sides but for anyone to jeopardise the best product in professional rugby beggars belief.

11 That before launching their admirable bid for the Rugby World Cup, the IRFU come into the real world and put some serious thought and effort into the establishment of rugby Sevens in this country. We saw last weekend what an American Football match can do for the Irish economy. Need I state the obvious in asking what an IRB World Series event staged in Ireland would do in this time of economic strife? It's time to s**t or get off the pot. Either we enter the world of full-time Sevens ahead of the 2016 Olympic Games or we make a show of ourselves on the biggest stage of all.

12 Why not a team on the full-time Sevens circuit comprising the best of emerging academy, university and club talent? As of now, our ladies team is much further down the track in preparation for the Olympic introduction than our men.

13 The dropping of the word 'touch' from the scrummaging sequence represents a key step in the quest to return to refereeing anonymity.

14 Former Ireland soccer manager Brian Kerr, having outlined his team's tactical plan at underage, would turn to Damien Duff and say "Duffer, go out and enjoy yourself". What would we give for even a smidgen of that philosophy in today's robotic rugby? Players to play from the heart rather than the book of mindnumbing moves.

15 On the subject of flair, for Luke Fitzgerald to return to full fitness and fulfil that vast, still untapped potential. For Keith Earls to prove himself for the class act he is at centre. For Andrew Conway to emerge and come into his own. And three to watch on the club scene: Rian O'Loughlin and Steve Toal-Lennon at St Mary's and Diarmaid McCarthy at Blackrock.

16 In the ongoing impasse with the IRFU, that AIL clubs take the initiative and agree among themselves what type of competitive league (All-Ireland or provincial leading to All-Ireland play-offs) they want and bring it to the governing body as a fait accompli.

17 That the IRFU work harder to ensure that provincial coaches, academy managers and U-20 mentors give the clubs a fairer deal as regards player availability for All-Ireland League games.

18 Equally, that contracted players demonstrate a greater loyalty to their club teams and show a desire to turn out when not getting game time at their provinces.

19 That the problem of the increasing number of player agents is addressed through the establishment of a formal regulation body by the IRFU. As it is, we are heading down the slippery path of soccer.

20 That All-Ireland League clubs show greater initiative in marketing and staging their home games and look to make them a more enticing experience for club members and the general public. Friday nights under lights or Sunday afternoons in the event of Saturday clashes with Pro12 matches are surely no-brainers.

21That rugby clubs throughout the land make a better effort with local community involvement and that they portray themselves (as some assuredly do) as less elitist and open to everyone.

22 That there be greater trust and better lines of communication between national and provincial coaches going forward.

23 That provincial fans, particularly those of a blinkered blue or red persuasion, come to understand that praise of one is not implied criticism of the other.

24 That the same new-age 'dyed in the wool' fans find their way into a club ground some time. They might be amazed at what they find.

25 Finally we dream the dream that Ireland cleans up at provincial and international level playing a vibrant brand of attacking, off-loading rugby.

Irish Independent