Tuesday 23 January 2018

Ireland take another step backwards

Tony Ward

Tony Ward

From a distance this appeared the least attractive of the November Internationals, hence the IRFU decision to price tickets for the game at half the cost of last week's fare.

Well, while the governing body have got so much wrong in recent weeks, they got this one bang on the button.

The hastily assembled Samoans gave it their best shot, but the side that should have oozed organisation and incentive failed to show, as for the second week running an Ireland XV -- ranked No 6 in the world -- lacked zip.

This was an Irish performance low on imagination, energy and, most worryingly, confidence.

We regressed against the Springboks and then on Saturday against gallant, hugely committed opposition, we went back further again.

Much though we hate the thought, it is time for a circling of the wagons and that collective siege mentality to take control. Anything less than an "everyone hates us" attitude in the Irish camp in the coming days and we are in for a thumping by New Zealand.

Trying to find anything positive from this debacle is extremely difficult. Devin Toner did everything he was asked to do in making a line-out that had misfired seven days earlier much more productive on its own throw.

Beyond that I am struggling. An opportunity that had knocked for so many became an opportunity missed for sure. Toner apart, there is not another player who advanced his cause for selection to face the All Blacks.

Jamie Heaslip did maintain his now expected industrious high standard until his departure on the hour but hard though Denis Leamy and Sean O'Brien grafted alongside him, it is difficult to look beyond the No 8 as the only copper-fastened forward certainty to face the ultimate challenge against the Grand Slam-chasing All Blacks.

Heaslip and perhaps Brian O'Driscoll, Tommy Bowe and Luke Fitzgerald apart, every other player should be sweating bricks ahead of tomorrow's team announcement.

Fitzgerald got little chance to advance his cause in his favoured position of full-back -- rather than wing -- but at least his body language and general demeanour smacked of one willing to give it a go.

The scrum was a mess but here there has to be some sympathy, given the farce that is the primary set-piece at the behest of the IRB. The amount of time lost to scrummaging is a sad joke on all of us. It was long said that the best referees were seldom heard and hardly noticed; now they are centre stage from first whistle to last.

Quite how any fan self-inflicts the misery of an 80-minute refereeing earpiece is beyond me. It is time for IRB Referee Manager Paddy O'Brien and his acolytes to call a halt and reinvent the engagement process. The scrum had managed reasonably well for well over a century before the men in the middle were given license to cut loose.

How many times must we listen to that awful "crouch-touch-pause-engage" before the inevitable collapse and penalty that follows? Forward units are now charged with the added burden of coming to terms with the referee's vocal beat in the opening stanza of every game. It is way beyond a bad joke.


This is no excuse for what transpired on Saturday. Ireland were listless irrespective of what went on in the scrum.

We started well, and ended up winning thanks to Ronan O'Gara's opportunist try totally against the run of play in the third quarter, but that should not hide the insipid nature of most everything in between.

Donncha O'Callaghan's hoof up-field followed by O'Gara's try and conversion sucked the life out of a Samoan assault visibly growing in confidence. For the second time in a week, albeit with differing results, the final scoreline bears little resemblance to what went before.

There is no crisis yet in terms of ability but a seriously developing one in terms of confidence. This fixture demanded a performance as much as a result. That it most certainly was not.

Two games in and, save for the final eight minutes against the Boks, we haven't yet left the station. A win is a win but apart from putting the starting line-up against South Africa back in pole position to face New Zealand, it hasn't advance Kidney's or Ireland's cause one iota.

Irish Independent

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