Sport Rugby

Sunday 18 February 2018

George Hook: O'Driscoll destined to fail in pursuit of coveted scalp

Brian O'Driscoll
Brian O'Driscoll
Brian O'Driscoll, right, and Gordon D'Arcy
George Hook

George Hook

The result tomorrow afternoon is a foregone conclusion and we may see, as we did last week, spectators streaming towards the gates before the end of the game.

The modern rugby supporter is less knowledgeable than those of previous generations and inured by a diet of television and provincial success has little patience with a sub-standard national team.

The Australian match demonstrated that some of this team are ageing fast, others are struggling to come to terms with law changes and all are clearly not in tune with the Joe Schmidt system. The players are suffering as Leinster did at the beginning of the Kiwi's reign at the province.

I may have called time on his reign a little prematurely, but Leinster in the early months were nothing like the powerhouse he ultimately delivered. The problem at Ireland, as successive national coaches have discovered, is different. The coach has less time with the players and the provincial bosses do not necessarily share the national coach's vision.

Schmidt has chosen Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy in the centre, which is a clear defensive measure. Luke Marshall, who is not just the future, but also the present, has been cast into the darkness of the Pro12. It is hardly a confidence-building message for the youngster.

Johnny Sexton and O'Driscoll are big calls. A hamstring strain is hardly the ideal preparation for the No 10 and his employers in Paris will be looking on with some fear for their costly import.

Meanwhile, the likelihood of O'Driscoll delivering a performance of old lessens with every week that he spends his days on the physio's treatment table. The great centre may have played another year out of mistaken loyalty to a coach with whom he has had such a successful relationship. It would be ironic if that coach were to call time on his career.

The big question after last week's debacle was the state of the Irish scrum. Ireland failed against the worst set-piece in tier one rugby. Studying the form of Mike Ross this season has been instructive. The tight head has not been comfortable with Leinster all season and the form of Martin Moore was only good in comparison to that of his supposed senior.

Ross had an inauspicious beginning to his professional career and it was only when he moved to Harlequins that he prospered. He gained weight and muscle which reduced his mobility, but made him an adequate scrummager as the avoir du pois worked at the hit.

However, the new laws place a greater emphasis on technique and he is now struggling against even average prop forwards. It may be the All Black second-choice front-row, but we may be in even greater trouble than last week. Ross is no ball carrier and Devin Toner is little better. The All Blacks will play at a ferocious pace and Ireland cannot compete in that area. England made it a contest because they had a powerful pack backed up by a kicking fly-half.

Schmidt's game plan has always been about the running lines and inventiveness of his backs. Sexton and company will be strangled by a lack of usable possession and be reduced to tackling waves of black shirts. And, on the basis of the last two weeks, that may not be too successful.

There is then the vexed question of Sean O'Brien. He was overused as a ball carrier last week and his tank-like charges are analysed pre-match by opponents and easily contained during the game. This week he faces the master of the black arts of the open side in Richie McCaw. It would be the greatest performance of his career were he to reach parity. That result would also contribute massively to keeping the score down.


However, it is unlikely to happen if he is also asked to be Ireland's number one ball-carrying option. Paul O'Connell and Peter O'Mahony must take on that role if Ireland are to make even a minor dent in the New Zealand power.

This match will not define Schmidt's career, but it could mark the beginning of the end for others. The Six Nations could easily see a very different selection and it might be unsuccessful which could impact on ticket sales and, most importantly, revenue to develop the game.

Ireland will lose and probably lose heavily. The stakes will be high for some individuals even if the match result is largely irrelevant. O'Driscoll, warrior that he is, thinks Ireland can give him the win against New Zealand. Sadly, he will go into retirement with some goals unfulfilled.

Irish Independent

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