Monday 23 September 2019

Appalling Ireland stare down barrel of disaster

All Blacks will tear apart a toothless Ireland side, says George Hook

George Hook

WHAT we had to endure yesterday was a terrible performance by Ireland in front of a tiny crowd. The cost of watching this team is totally disproportionate to the entertainment delivered.

It is time for an assessment for the management, selection and coaching of this group of players. It was indicative of how low Ireland has gone that Stephen Ferris was reduced to exaggerating an assault by a Samoan in a despicable attempt to get a red card for his opponent.

Ireland go into next week's game against the All Blacks with the unenviable record of being without a win in 23 matches in the 105 years of the fixture. Declan Kidney does not look to have the players at his disposal to break that sequence.

Last week's South African game and June's joust with New Zealand proved that this Irish team is good when the cause is lost. In New Plymouth, Ireland were 45 points in arrears and down to 14 men before they started to play.

The suspicion always lingers about opponents' feet coming off the gas or, as certainly was the case with Peter de Villiers, substitutions weakening the opposition resolve. This time around the prospect of a humiliating defeat concentrated the minds of the Irish who eked out a totally undeserved victory.

England survived against the All Blacks because they had a powerful scrum, which gave them a platform. Kidney does not have that luxury, Tony Buckley last week and John Hayes yesterday cannot perform the first and primary duty of the tighthead. He may not have a lineout to boot, should he decide not to select Devin Toner. He presented a perfect target for Sean Cronin and it was no surprise that he appeared to be the only focus of the throw for most of the game. That said, Ireland posed no threat on the visitors' throw.

Kidney's selection at outhalf next week is about kicking -- but whoever is selected could find his options cut down by New Zealand's unwillingness to kick the ball back. As a kick to touch or for position guarantees that the ball will not be returned for another dozen phases, or worse, when seven points are conceded. After 23 minutes, Samoa opened Ireland up in midfield, which probably condemned Paddy Wallace to the bench for next week. It will be tough as Graham Henry will be able to perm two out of three world-class centres to test the resolve of the Irish captain, Brian O'Driscoll.

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Everybody with the best interests of Irish rugby at heart hopes for the continuing good health of O'Driscoll. In the week that John Fogarty retired to face an uncertain future of depression and panic attacks brought on by repeated concussions, one is reminded that last June in the build-up to the New Plymouth Test, O'Driscoll could not train with what was described as vertigo. His words then were worrying.

"I'll be grand in another 24 hours," he said. "I just get a bit of vertigo now and then. I haven't had it for a while. The last real memory of having it was the night we won the Grand Slam and I couldn't go to the dinner. It just came on and I was getting sick that time.

"I just felt a little bit dizzy last night and went to bed and felt a bit better this morning. I took a bit more medication and I'll be grand."

There were many that question his selection for yesterday's game. How many times must this brave and talented man put his body on the line for Ireland?

The captain was brave but hardly inventive in attack. All too often he ran across field without any clear intent. If the proverbial Man from Mars was watching O'Driscoll, he would never have assumed he was watching the best centre in the world. The Irish back play was poor and O'Gara looked ill at ease with blue shirts bearing down on him. Sadly, Luke Fitzgerald did nothing to boost his case and Geordan Murphy should be at full-back next week.

The lack of a dynamic ball carrier was glaringly obvious. The average yardage gained by an Irish forward was about a yard before falling in an untidy heap on the ground at the feet of the first defender. Sean O'Brien never carried the ball with the power and pace that David Wallace routinely does for province and country.

Donncha O'Callaghan is playing purely on reputation and for the second week in a row was a peripheral figure. He has survived on the great punditry fall-back, "he got through an amount of unseen work." Only Toner at the lineout approached competence. In contrast, Samoa broke the gain line at will, produced continuity and appeared comfortable with the ball in hand.

This was an appalling performance by Ireland, irrespective of the result. The Irish tactic was based on hack and chase. They demonstrated not a jot of imagination or talent. One shudders to think of what the All Blacks might do in a week.

Their video analysts will see the defensive gaps at the tail of the lineout, the inability of the backs to create space and, above all, the complete absence of a threat, physical, technical or intellectual, from the pack.

We are staring down the barrel of a disaster.

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