Saturday 20 January 2018

Bell has tolled for ageing bull

David Kelly

David Kelly

You get the feeling Devin Toner will go a long way. Asked afterwards if he felt an appreciable difference when his head was stuck up a different a**e about the hour mark, he was about to tell all.

Suddenly, though, he demurred. Because he knew that the bell had tolled for John Hayes at that point.

He knew that everyone in the ground appreciated that the scrum had improved when Tom Court switched sides and Cian Healy joined Rory Best in the front-row. So he said nothing. Because Toner appreciates Hayes' place in Irish rugby history. It's a pity that the Irish management don't feel the same.

Ireland's scrummaging problems are not a sudden affliction; the arrival of Greg Feek, a supposed scrummaging guru from New Zealand, has clearly not offered a panacea as the scrum has struggled even without the Bull.

Gert Smal has not covered himself in glory in this area either. How can he oversee a situation whereby Mike Ross has been ignored for the opening fortnight of this series?

Regardless of your views on Ross, it would have been better for the Irish team to discover if he can perform the primary function of locking the scrum.

Apparently, Ross has spent the weekend ensconced in DVDs of the Kiwi's front-row -- which will only be of benefit if he can get the opportunity to lock horns with the world's best team himself.

There was a general consensus that greenhorn referee Keith Brown went all Bergman with his excessive longueurs between the various pre-scrum instructions but any post-match patter from the Irish doesn't wash.

The same conditions pertained for both sides and the Samoans clearly had the edge in the scrums and, even when defending their own line against the best Irish front-row of the afternoon, they managed to eke out their fourth penalty at the set-piece.

It was most odd of Declan Kidney not to arrange a pre-match meeting with the referee to ascertain that the engagement was going to be so prolonged; there were similar problems in Murrayfield so Ireland's pleadings count for nothing.

The Irish scrum was bludgeoned and refereeing foibles can't mask that fact -- nor the principle that suggests Hayes should be replaced forthwith in Ireland's World Cup plans.

Ross may be the only alternative. Critics will argue that he does little else apart from scrummaging. That argument is redundant as few of Ireland's forwards can participate meaningfully in a game where their scrum is pinged for four penalties and three free-kicks.

But Ross can secure the set-piece, particularly against the weaker nations in our World Cup pool, with the same facility that Toner can offer at line-out time.

Otherwise, Kidney will be forced to play his front-line forwards in every match.

Toner didn't have the heart to say it. Ironically, the lock's extraordinary height means that Hayes' prowess as a lifter has also been made redundant. Just like his World Cup hopes.

David Kelly

Irish Independent

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