Tuesday 23 January 2018

1 good win... now do it again

Ireland haven't had a problem producing one-off, big performances over the past 18 months. The problem has been achieving consistency.

Beating Australia, drawing with France and taking New Zealand to a last-gasp drop-goal all required displays that were close to Saturday's excellence, but they were all followed by poor results the next time top-class opposition came calling.

Now, Declan Kidney and his brains trust's task is to turn the positivity surrounding the camp into a successful Six Nations.

Ireland have France and England at home next spring, while all of the 'home nations' are struggling and at least some of the big six absentees of Brian O'Driscoll, Sean O'Brien, Rory Best, Paul O'Connell, Stephen Ferris and Rob Kearney will be back.

The Grand Slam should be the goal.

2 cream of leinster talent losing out

WHEN Simon Zebo played at the Junior World Cup in 2010, Rhys Ruddock was considered the great hope of Ireland's U-20 team and was flown out to New Zealand to win his first cap.

When Craig Gilroy was at that level, Andrew Conway was the bright hope of the back three, while last year Iain Henderson and JJ Hanrahan were rated alongside Conor Gilsenan and Jordan Coughlan as prospects.

Zebo, Gilroy and Henderson have all continued their progress for the senior side, but their Leinster contemporaries were nowhere to be seen.

The academy on the east coast is producing the players, but the success of the three-time European champions and the quality of players in their squad means that breaking through is hard to do, ensuring that some of Ireland's most promising young players are not getting a chance to show true worth.

3 islanders need access

Having lit up the autumn with wins over Scotland and Wales respectively, Tonga and Samoa must melt into the background and hope that the benevolent unions might give them a game again.

After the damage they did to their world rankings, why would they?

The International Rugby Board (IRB) needs to step in and force the southern hemisphere countries' hands, as well as reforming their own rules around releasing players and looking at the rugby calendar.

Samoa, now second-tier seeds for the World Cup, need to be included in the Rugby Championship along with Argentina and, having never played a Test against New Zealand, the process should begin with that overdue fixture.

Otherwise, the big gains made this month will have been for nothing.

4 welsh swings and roundabouts

"Right boys! Maybe instead of going to Poland and doing weights and freezing your b***s off you just stand in a big circle and learn to pass and catch."

That was the message from one Welsh fan to his team on Saturday after another bad day for the Grand Slam winners, who will defend their Six Nations title on the back of a disastrous November that, unless they pull off an unlikely win over Australia next Saturday, will leave them with seven defeats in a row.

For so long we wondered how they were able to go from being so poor in the Pro12 and Heineken Cup with the Dragons, Blues and Scarlets, but no longer. These Welsh players look every bit the same as the ineffectual characters we see week in, week out.

Success in the Principality seems unsustainable and no one doubts that they will be back at the top in a year or two, but for the time being, the crisis continues.

5 world cup draw needs refixing

IT has made for an entertaining few weeks and the permutations have added some value this month, but the very idea that the 2012 November internationals have such a bearing on the 2015 World Cup makes no sense.

If Warren Gatland's side lose heavily to the Wallabies, then just a year after getting to the World Cup semi-final and eight months after their Grand Slam, they will find themselves in the third pot of next month's draw for a competition that takes place in three years.


Irish Independent

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