Saturday 16 December 2017

Answer this Eddie . . .

Eddie O'Sullivan scratches his head as he tries to make sense of Saturday's shambolic display in Bordeaux
Eddie O'Sullivan scratches his head as he tries to make sense of Saturday's shambolic display in Bordeaux

Where is the game-plan?

Since the awkward transitioning of their game in the autumn of 2005, Ireland have consistently tried to build a solid platform, mostly reliant on their quality set-piece and quick ruck ball, in order to then free their outstanding three-quarters.

Yet again, Ireland failed to build such a platform and, even when presented with attacking opportunities and space behind the Georgians, they seemed fearful of even attempting to engage in fluid movement.

"Some of our approach work was quite good but the last pass went astray. We forced the last pass," says O'Sullivan. Yet the evidence contradicts this, as few off-loads were attempted and Ireland kicked too much possession away, in addition to easy restarts into opposition hands, forcing them to defend for long periods.

Is the coach too loyal to his players?

One of the most experienced teams in international rugby has flopped in successive weeks against mediocre opposition, yet it appears that nobody will pay a significant price. Instead, O'Sullivan is somehow hoping his players can re-discover their form.

He is utterly distrustful of his bench, otherwise Geordan Murphy would have seen more than 30 seconds and under-performing players would have been hauled off. Peter Stringer's replacement was the first notable tactical switch in many moons, albeit even that was a belated change and the wrong replacement scrum-half is on the bench.

Where is the passion?

Alan Quinlan has said that he would prefer to have a hotel base nearer Bordeaux city, an opinion probably shared by many of his colleagues, although the paranoia within the Irish camp is such that few are afraid to speak their mind.

Disconnected from the supporters, they have thus failed to form a symbiotic bond with them when they cross the white line and the lack of passion is palpable; worryingly the feeling is mutual as the Irish crowds have been listless.

Where is the leadership?

Brian O'Driscoll says it is up to every player to lead but instead it is as if they are absolving themselves of all responsibility.

Up front, there is no driving force and even Paul O'Connell, despite his wonderful late take, seems relatively subdued. Ronan O'Gara's shocking form and distracted persona has robbed the team of another potential leader.

Are Ireland stale?

That a Georgian second-string side could read many of Ireland's midfield moves, culminating in the intercept try, is worrying. Have Ireland got any tricks up their sleeve at all? Their ponderous play indicates not. Gordon D'Arcy, once such a beacon of brilliance, has been strangely muted.

Perhaps the players are too cosseted or are else tired of hearing the same old stuff from a coaching staff who are resting on their laurels, comforted by the absence of any job insecurity. Man management skills are as crucial as coaching.

Fitter, faster, stronger?

Namibia and Georgia both claimed they finished their games stronger than Ireland. "I don't think the Irish were ready physically. Our forwards really hurt them," said Georgian prop Mamuka Magrakvelidze.

"I thought our fitness would be better than theirs," said O'Connell alarmingly. "I was unbelievably impressed with their fitness, particularly their kick chase, it was outstanding at times."

Group D permutations

To win the Group

Ireland have to win against France and Argentina.

To finish second

Beat France and lose to Argentina; lose to France with bonus point and beat Argentina denying them a bonus point; lose to France with a bonus point and beat Argentina with a bonus point, while also denying them a bonus point; lose to France with no bonus point and beat Argentina with a bonus point while denying them a bonus point.

n This is based on the current table and presuming Argentina beat Namibia with a bonus point.

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