Friday 23 March 2018

Ireland's world must rise above rubble of paris

Kidney's 2011 blueprint blotted by 'reality check'

David Kelly

David Kelly

Only by using this experience as a lesson in humility for the champions of the northern hemisphere, rather than a visceral response to what was effectively a humiliation, can Ireland seek to recuperate from such a physically and mentally corrosive defeat.

Declan Kidney's men will solemnly insist upon the mantra that everything that contributed to Ireland's Grand Slam success will continue to fortify them after this crushingly embarrassing reverse.

This is arrant nonsense and one hopes that there is a persistence of the honest in-house discussions between the squad and the management; for the ingredients that contributed to Ireland's Grand Slam status was rendered redundant by this brutish submission to French authority and control.


The psychological and practical changes wrought by Kidney were sufficiently invoked to deliver a Grand Slam that this group of players clearly merited; advancing to the next stage, to which Kidney and his management team certainly aspire, will require modification of a different hue.

At times, Ireland appeared shell-shocked. Having reached an exalted level unmatched in modern Irish rugby last year, they now find that the standard of excellence within their sport has been elevated to another stratosphere.

To their credit, it would be an unfair accusation to say that this Ireland squad would ever stand still. Yet the acknowledgement of how fast they need to move to keep up is jarring.

This was Ireland's defining game of this year, any signposts towards success in the southern hemisphere was predicated upon how well they would do on another familiar killing field.

And looking further into the distance, one wonders just how credible Ireland's quest for a semi-final place at the World Cup remains this morning. Unless this shuddering lesson is used as the perfect opportunity to complete the regeneration of this squad started last year by Kidney.

Brian O'Driscoll, after one of those familiar acts of defiance despite the use of only one leg, cut a distracted figure in the aftermath and he needed the support of a wall to aid his retreat from the post-match formalities.

His discomfort, notwithstanding his brave defiance against a growing consensus that this may be the end of a cycle for this team, addressed the impossibility of sending out this team to battle in a World Cup.

O'Driscoll will be there; he must, even if his outrageous defiance of pain was overshadowed by a younger man on Saturday. But the folly suggesting that John Hayes, for example, can still be effective in New Zealand has to be addressed sooner rather than later. It was sad and quite unfair to see a legend reduced to such anonymity.

Gordon D'Arcy's honesty shone in the aftermath as he assessed the accelerating pace of standards in the game.

"I look at it from 12 years ago," he says defiantly. "It has not been a gradual increase. It's getting so steep every year. We can play with that pressure. If you roll out the whole team here they will give you the same answer. We shot ourselves in the foot.

"We have lost one match and it's backs to the wall. All we can do is, as my old coach Vinnie Murray would say, control what you can control. All we can control is trying to beat England, Wales and Scotland and then hope someone nicks one against France. The focus though for us remains on what we can achieve."

Added to that will be required the unswerving commitment to retain their expansionist policy; wedding that to the immense physicality required to be sustainable at a World Cup, for example, is something that the top four countries in the world have mastered.

In ever sense of the phrase, then, as O'Driscoll confirmed afterwards with perhaps less depth than he might have suggested, this defeat represented a "reality check" for his troops. D'Arcy heartily endorsed the sentiment.

"You look at David Wallace's try, not in terms of describing it as simple, but in essence that was the gameplan. When we got it right that's what we were capable of; when we didn't it was often a case of lads being too flat.

"In fairness Mathieu Bastareaud put in some brilliant man-and-ball tackles but we knew it was coming and that was bad play from us. He can only play what is in front of him and you take your hat off, he cut us off at a time when we had two or three players on the outside.

"If we were a yard deeper. The move where Vincent Clerc got Brian O'Driscoll by the skin of his teeth; another yard of depth, little things again.

"Listen, it's a reality check, a kick in the a***, whatever way you want to put it. We spoke after the Italy game about changing little things. We probably got a lot of things right that we got wrong in the Italy game but we were slack in other areas this weekend. It's about marrying the two.

"The championship is still attainable. There is an attitude in the dressing-room about the opportunity that the next match presents. It'll be a fairly honest week to say the least when we come together for the England match."

Honesty mirroring that of D'Arcy's will be crucial. Despite the denials, some of the defending was shambolic, with the captain chiefly responsible for vacating his post; it may be a gamble but sometimes the risk will not pay.

The scrum remains a pressing concern and there has too often been a blase public response to the issue, especially from the players. And selection quandaries need to be addressed.

Trumpeting Ireland's strength in depth is all very well. But the fact remains that there was precious little back-three cover while Ireland's most physical-impact replacement, Sean O'Brien, didn't leave the bench.


"What happened today is very disappointing in terms of the result and the way we played at times," said David Wallace, who has never completed a more unfulfilling shift in a green jersey. "But we can take a lot of positives out of it in terms of our set-piece.

"If we can nail down those errors and change different things, I think we'll get a lot out of today's game physically. It will be very good for us. It will drive us on. You'll learn a lot from losing today than you might not have done from winning."

It sounds depressingly like a dog-eared script from biennial trips to Paris of yore, although Wallace did honestly concede that he, like his team-mates, were the perpetrators of some schoolboy errors in open play.

When the pressure was applied, it seemed that Ireland's response was to be reduced to a quivering wreck. Worse still, the accompanying slide into disciplinary anarchy contradicted any pretensions to measured control.

One could argue that the new management team finished a job by delivering the Grand Slam last season. However, it now seems certain that they will be defined by the ongoing task of rebuilding the squad before the next World Cup.

Irish Independent

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