Saturday 24 February 2018

Gutless, mindless Ireland ripped apart like rag dolls

Kidney's jaded tourists devoured by a hungry pack of patient wolves, writes Neil Francis

This match was an 80 minute trespass against all the acquired knowledge and experience built up by this squad. A risible performance devoid of any conviction or intent and the feel-good factor of that show of defiance in Christchurch demonstrating that blips on the graph only have the shelf life of a litre of milk. You could consume a can of alphabet spaghetti and crap a better game plan than Ireland produced yesterday.

The prepared mind is everything and Ireland were just unable to replicate what they had produced the previous week.

I am not sure what sort of a pronounced effect that would have had on the scoreline yesterday as the All Blacks performed like a pack of patient wolves and Ireland meekly and conveniently fell off tackles as if they were optional extras.

There are many differences between how the sides play their brand of the game. Yesterday in Hamilton you got a little bit of insight. New Zealand could see the opposition try line from their own deadball line. Ireland only have the capacity to see their next ruck. In rugby terms we have been left on the blocks at the evolutionary start-gate.

The breakdown, as it always does in matches between northern hemisphere and southern hemisphere sides, showed the divide in quality. Every one of Ireland's singular runners was met by a double New Zealand tackle. Stung by media criticism and their failure to reach their own customary high standards the All Blacks were not content just to stop Ireland on the gainline. They picked them up and savagely knocked them back to such an extent that the Royal Irish Rag Doll Protection Society will be up in arms about what happened out on the paddock.

Ireland just couldn't hang on to the ball in the crucial first 20 minutes when they knew the Kiwis would hit the ground running. Ireland turned the ball over 22 times in the entire match and turned falling off tackles into an art form. They missed 24 tackles in the 80, coming in at a 79 per cent completion rate. Les Kiss is either a defence coach or an offensive co-ordinator -- he can't be both after that performance.

The selection of Paddy Wallace from a beach in Portugal was a tacit acknowledgement that the experiment of dropping Gordon D'Arcy in the first test and putting Keith Earls into the midfield did not work. Earls, it appeared, was fully fit yet Kidney did a U-turn and picked him on the wing -- inexplicably picking a centre who has never performed to an acceptable level in a Test match. The mere sight of Wallace only served to encourage the All Blacks. Sonny Bill Williams, who had been put in a straight-jacket and severely curtailed in Christchurch a week ago, had a field day.

I was watching The Simpsons a couple of weeks ago and Homer made a statement after winning a competition, saying, "I think Mr Smithers picked me for my motivational skills -- everyone always says they have to work twice as hard when I'm around." There was such a glaring deficiency in the first centre zone that no one could cover for Wallace and the All Blacks ruthlessly exploited it. Needing to make first-up tackles in a test against the All Blacks is like needing a parachute -- if it does not work the first time you need it, chances are you won't be needing it again.

Ireland conceded in the eighth minute when the extraordinary Sam Cane ended up at the end of the chain on the right-hand side but it was the second score which demonstrated Ireland's deficiencies. Off a scrum, Richie McCaw executed a simple 8-9 with the extravagantly talented Aaron Smith. The ball got to Aaron Cruden on the run, who did a dummy pump to Hosea Gear running a line away from where the ball was progressing to. This held up Jonny Sexton from drifting and he eventually tackled Gear without the ball. Cruden stepped a little bit to the outside to face the delicious prospect of going one-on-one with Paddy Wallace. The waif got the ball away with a delicious underarm offload to Williams, who took a simple 45 degree angle turn. He was gone and so was the game -- 14-0 after 11 minutes was not going to be recoverable.

The point being that the transfer from Cruden to Williams was executed 10 metres over the gainline. If Ireland were not going to come up and close down space the game was up from very early on.

Mentally,, when you are not in the game it is almost certain that the 50-50-90 rule will apply -- any time you have a 50-50 chance of getting something right there is a 90 per cent probability that you will get it wrong. Ireland made eight handling errors in the first 20 minutes. New Zealand didn't have to go scavenging for the ball, Ireland gave it back to them with the sort of charity that would put Mother Teresa to shame and even when they had it they never got enough men into the breakdown to clear it with conviction.

Conor Murray had to become an auxiliary rucker as the quality of ball presented to him left him no choice but to go in and re-win it as New Zealand, and I hate using this term, 'counter-rucked' like a herd of wildebeest crossing a river.

Again symptomatic of the psychological malaise was when the hooter went for half-time, you could see Ireland relax while New Zealand redoubled their efforts and picked up an extra three points through Beau Barret for a penalty conceded by Rob Kearney. Romain Poite was not a factor in this game due to the overwhelming superiority of the All Blacks. It does show what a liability he can be by sending Kearney off to the bin for what you would really consider a snatch at the ball rather than a cynical deliberate knock-on. A totally frustrated O'Driscoll ventured to the Frenchman "that is a ridiculous decision". Poite is instinctively obtuse, as we know from the Rabo final, and there is no way to legislate for some of his decisions.

At this stage The Fields of Athenry could not be heard and our soccer brethren even beat us in the realms of keeping their own spirits up.

There is little point in engaging in forensic analysis and I suppose I can only marvel at the quality of some of the All Black play and indeed the depth of their squad.

It is always interesting when the tide goes out to see who is swimming in the nude. Ireland's squad, and its lack of depth, were again cruelly exposed. You could look no further than my player of the match Liam Messam who was fourth choice blindside after the injured Jerome Kaino and his injured replacement Victor Vito and then the usually reliable Adam Thompson who was benched after an average display last week.

Messam's aggression at the breakdown intimidated Ireland. There was no compromise from this player as Ireland's ball carriers found out once they got into contact. Ireland's back row were played off the park by Cane, Messam and McCaw, who would be a match for any back row even though they would not be considered first choice.

New Zealand will have Kieran Read and hopefully Kaino back for the championship in August. I look forward to seeing Aaron Smith perform against the acknowledged world No 1 scrumhalf Will Genia. It is astonishing to think that Smith was not good enough to make the New Zealand under-20 side for the Junior World Cup only a few years ago.

Romano, Whitelock and Retalick demonstrated superior leg drive and their aggression at the clear out demonstrated their superiority over any of Ireland's tight forwards. Tuohy had one attempted tackle and missed it. He had made 13 tackles in the Christchurch test -- it tells a lot about the state of mind. It's not a case of losing the battle of the collisions, sometimes there were no collisions at all.

Maybe when we tour New Zealand in 12 years time the gap will be such that when we play a Test on the south island we only play an All Black selection picked from the south island and the same for the north island. A depressing conclusion to the season -- dwarf throwing anyone?

Sunday Indo Sport

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