Sport Rugby

Tuesday 20 March 2018

Inhibited Ireland fail test of heart and mind

Outfought and out-thought, these players need a radical change in mindset to join elite

David Kelly

David Kelly

The revolution cannot be sanitised. It was when people started streaming towards the exits with 15 minutes remaining that one fully realised the extent of Ireland's abject abasement.

It wasn't just defeat, it was the manner of it that will wound Ireland this morning. A DVD review is not necessary.

The most galling thing was the complete absence of intensity.

It was almost as if the team were overloaded with cerebral thoughts before entering the pitch, too predisposed to what was going to happen next rather than what was happening in the moment.

A wafer-thin defensive line was the result, surprisingly narrow defence undone for the opening two tries, a limp chasing game and a frightening inhibition at the breakdown.

This was rugby coaching by the manual. But the sport is played by human beings, not playbooks.

Whether Ireland will ever be skilful enough to play the game in the manner and style to which the coach quite correctly is committed is a wider debate.

But the fundamental elements of the game that have applied for more than a century still apply – the sport is about physically intimidating your opponent.

Ronan O'Gara's aside was revealing. It wasn't that the spearing of Peter O'Mahony was shocking; it was Ireland's passive acceptance of the Australians roughing up of one of their team-mates.

Ireland didn't carry themselves like soldiers on a battlefield; they were more like figures on a chessboard.

They played with too much information in their heads and not enough intensity in their hearts.

Australia utterly out-thought, as well as outfought, Ireland.


They trumped the tired, redundant tactic of the 'choke tackle'; they triumphed in the maul, they pierced Ireland's flawed narrow defence for the opening two tries, they gleefully targeted the scrum. Everywhere one looked, there was carnage.

Ireland's greatest players were their greatest underperformers – Brian O'Driscoll and Paul O'Connell chose the same afternoon to deliver arguably their least inspired international performances.

It is a low point from which to organise a playing – and a player – revolution. Even more difficult when so many highly-paid professionals could not even perform the basic function of the game.

The zany obsession with repeatedly kicking to the air space dominated by Israel Folau was a recurring theme, illustrating the redundancy of imagination in the Irish side all afternoon.

"You go into a default mode, go back to what the Irish team has done for years, which is box-kicking, and that didn't work for us," admitted Madigan, whose first act was to kick the ball into Folau's grateful mitts.

It is indicative of a mindset which needs to be radically altered if Irish rugby is to have any ambitions of reaching the sort of altitude occupied by the world's best.

"It is tough that he gets us in small windows but Joe's game plan isn't rocket science," conceded Madigan.

"He's got fantastic attention to detail and he's very good at getting players to do what he wants them to do.

"Unfortunately that didn't happen today. That wasn't down to Joe's game plan. That was down to the players not executing the game plan."

The arrival of the All Blacks contains the promise of an even darker place. Then again, Australia coughed up 47 points to the best team on the planet on their own turf just a few months ago.

That they survived to spin their own formidable tale of rehabilitation on Saturday indicates that, given the time and patience that must be afforded the project, transformation is an achievable goal.

Stephen Moore, Australia's hooker, was part of a side shellacked comprehensively by the All Blacks by a combined 88 points last summer under Ewen McKenzie.

As with Ireland on Saturday, back then it wasn't just that Australia couldn't implement their game plan; few could work out what that game plan was supposed to be.

Australia could – and did – offer their hosts tea and sympathy.

"That's happened before and we haven't been able to put it out there on the field," Moore remarked. "When you completely overhaul the style of game that you want to play, it does take time, there's no doubt.

"Having watched the Leinster teams that Joe Schmidt has coached, they play very attractive, flowing rugby and they're very hard to play against at their peak. That will certainly come for Ireland.

"Talking to the boys there, they're confident that it will come. We've certainly had a lot more matches under our belt with our new coach, waiting for things to gel. We certainly had our teething problems.

"From talking to Paul O'Connell, there are no easy games where you can go out and try things.

"We've had tough games all the time, right from the Lions series."

Michael Hooper, whose outstanding display also confirmed that Schmidt will require a true openside to develop his preferred style of play, has also been an integral part of this slow-burning evolution.

He appreciates that the squad's patience has been tested but beneficial. "It does take time," he said. "We came into the game knowing there was a lot of similarities there between the two sides in terms of where they're at.

"They obviously have had less time with the new system and new coaches. And it's tough. You don't have long... you've got to pick up things quickly. It doesn't happen overnight. It is a tough run, having us and the Kiwis next week."

Ireland will have to be possessed of a warrior spirit next week. If Schmidt does not operate by triggering the players' emotions, then the players will have to forge that indomitable spirit from within.

They cannot afford similar reticence in defence and obeisance in the tackle.

"You have to be hopeful, don't you?" offered Moore. "There's no point turning up to play if you don't think you can win.

"They'll probably feel they owe it to their fans to finish up with a really good performance. There's no doubt New Zealand will be tough. They're the best team in the world.

"In a way, it will probably easier to prepare for because you know what's coming. There's a good chance they're going to play really well so you need to hit that mark."


Ireland must respond to this set-back with their hearts as well as their minds. It is possible to combine passion with precision.

"We prepped a game plan during the week with Joe," concludes Madigan. "Unfortunately, we didn't produce what we had practised in training during the week.

"So leading into the New Zealand game, whatever 15 is picked will certainly be going out to win the game and Joe will have formulated a game plan to beat them.

"We're not going to go out there to contain them. Obviously today is a setback but with a new coach coming in it's going to take time for things to click. Hopefully, we can bounce back next week."

Irish rugby may have to face the harsh reality of living with hope for some time to come.

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport