Sunday 25 February 2018

Ireland's horror show against All Blacks a stain on our game

NEW ZEALAND 60
IRELAND 0

Brian O'Driscoll cuts a dejected figure after the game
Brian O'Driscoll cuts a dejected figure after the game
A dejected Jonathan Sexton after the whitewash at the Waikato Stadium in Hamilton

Hugh Farrelly

SIXTY points to nil -- two days have done nothing to diminish the stark horror of that score-line for anyone with a vested interest in Irish rugby.

A scoreline that has stirred up a lot of emotion -- humiliation, anger, shame, disbelief, embarrassment -- but the over-riding feeling watching the Irish players' limp resistance at the Waikato Stadium was the sense of foolishness at being taken in.

Logic decreed that Ireland would adhere to their established tradition of struggling in the final outing of the summer tour, with thoughts drifting to holidays at the end of the season, and that was the stated expectation when analysing the tour initially.

However, the excellence of the performance in Christchurch and the passion and urgency of the Irish players and management during the build-up to the third Test (repeatedly stressing that there was a job to be done and no thought had been given to the break afterwards) was compelling to the point of engendering optimism towards, not a victory, but a huge Irish performance.

And then this.

Sixty points to nil.

A display that had 'holiday mindset' stamped all over it.

The squad began to break up early yesterday morning, making their way to various destinations in search of a break from rugby -- a break they had collectively begun the previous evening when they rolled over and allowed the All Blacks to dance all over them.

All the respect Ireland had gained with their indomitability in Christchurch, a game they deserved to at least draw, evaporated within a few minutes of action getting under way in Hamilton.

While Nigel Owens did the Irish few favours the week before, Romain Poite aided New Zealand's desire for early impetus by ignoring the ball blatantly going forward in the build-up to Sam Cane's first try after six minutes and the All Blacks were away.

But this defeat could not be put down to Poite (or the mostly perfect conditions when monsoon weather had been predicted). Ireland were deficient in attitude, tactics and execution and failed to heed the lessons of the week before.

In Christchurch, they had frustrated the All Blacks by playing the type of cup rugby they understand best. Using the touchlines, walking to line-outs, putting up good Garryowen, grinding out yards through mauls, pick and drives and direct running through midfield and generally slowing the game down to take the sting out of the opposition and maximise their own strengths.

This time, as in Eden Park in the first Test, they played right into New Zealand hands by trying to play them at their own game -- a ridiculous concept.

The fact they were chasing the game from early on obviously didn't help but, even when they went 14-0 down with less than 15 minutes gone, the message should surely have been to adopt a more direct, practical strategy.

Instead the ball continued to be zipped, harmlessly across the line, training-drill style, with New Zealand either waiting for the Irish to make another error or inducing the turnover through their excellent defence and breakdown work.

It made for harrowing viewing from an Irish perspective and an exhilarating spectacle if you were a Kiwi as Steve Hansen's new side blossomed in the face of Irish compliance.

Any coaching ticket that presides over a 60-0 reversal has to come under the spotlight and head coach Declan Kidney and his assistants Les Kiss, Gert Smal and Mark Tainton have some serious questions to answer.

Selection-wise, the decision to pick Paddy Wallace at 12 a few days after flying in from Portugal was badly exposed and you wonder if they had paired Ronan O'Gara with Jonathan Sexton in midfield, started Donncha O'Callaghan in place of a struggling Dan Tuohy, put Sean O'Brien at No 8 and given them a pragmatic, Christchurch style game plan, how Ireland would have fared.

Hindsight is the clearest view of all but the lack of tactical adaptability, by players and coaches, even at half-time when the scoreline stood merely at 29-0, was damning. For example, Sexton sent his first three drop-outs to the right wing where Fergus McFadden was beaten to the ball each time.

McFadden does not have the height of Shane Horgan or Tommy Bowe , he is a 5'10" converted centre while his opposite number Hosea Gear is 6'2". Work it out.

Coaching has to be held accountable for the tactical errors, offensive predictability and defensive pliability but Kidney, Kiss, Smal and Tainton cannot have expected their players to be so limp in attitude and individuals need to use this holiday break for some serious introspection.

Ireland's top rugby players are well paid and well looked after, some would say treated over protectively, and have become accustomed to a micro-managed existence where they are not subjected to excessive scrutiny or criticism.

Kidney and his fellow coaches will carry the can for this -- and as overseers they have much to explain -- but there is also the issue of professional pride among the players, even allowing for the fact that this is shaping up to be an exceptional New Zealand side.

England and Wales both managed to produce worthwhile performances in their final touring matches against South Africa and Australia respectively and while the All Blacks may be superior to either of their southern hemisphere rivals, it was mortifying to see the lack of Irish resistance at times on Saturday.

There will be a search for solutions and remedies over the next couple of days and at the start of next season but this was a truly horrible way to end Irish rugby's longest campaign.

Consideration

The strange consideration is that if you could have summarily ended this tour after the second Test in Christchurch, it would have been deemed a considerable success. Saturday was the game too far. Other provisos include a shallower playing pool, an awful run of injuries and the fact that it was agreed to play three Tests in New Zealand at the end of a World Cup season.

However, all of that can still not justify this nine-try humiliation for a side containing 11 players who featured in the 2012 Heineken Cup final and these scars could run very deep.

The next Test is against South Africa in November and this group will require something spectacular to recover from the horrors of Hamilton.

Sixty points to nil -- a result that is set to haunt Irish rugby.

NEW ZEALAND -- I Dagg; B Smith, C Smith (T Ellison 61), SB Williams, H Gear; A Cruden (B Barrett 24), A Smith (P Weepu 61); T Woodcock (B Franks 75), A Hore (K Mealamu h-t), O Franks; L Romano, S Whitelock (B Retallick 57); L Messam, S Cane (A Thomson 70), R McCaw (capt).

IRELAND -- R Kearney; F McFadden, B O'Driscoll (capt), P Wallace (R O'Gara 54), K Earls (A Trimble 48-54, 64); J Sexton, C Murray (E Reddan 59); C Healy, R Best (S Cronin 68), M Ross (D Fitzpatrick 59); D Tuohy (D O'Callaghan 55), D Ryan; K McLaughlin (C Henry 54), S O'Brien, P O'Mahony.

REF -- R Poite (France).

Irish Independent

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