Sunday 19 November 2017

Kidney needs a miracle to avoid complete disaster

On current form, Ireland will struggle to emerge from World Cup group, writes Neil Francis

Neil Francis

Neil Francis

WE all know that in his coaching career Declan Kidney has been a bit of a miracle worker. We need to understand what Biblical persona he holds at this moment in time. We know that Jesus was a carpenter, although he never actually sang on any of their records. The guy we need is Jesus the Messiah. This team needs a miracle, because the way they are playing they will find it difficult to get out of their group.

Yesterday was just another discouraging part of an all too familiar equation. What were we looking for? Emerging maturity. Defined pattern. Certainly some assured direction. Maybe some unshakable belief and confidence. We yearned for a team that would begin to know its weaknesses and limitations. We looked for an infusion of new ideas. We wanted a team that was looking to ratchet up its intensity levels beyond their and our expectations.

We did not get it. Instead we have uncertainty. We have tactical cul-de-sacs. We have confusion and we have a team that has been spooned into some form of rigid conformity. There is no question that this team has gone backwards. You have to ask yourself, has this become a bad team overnight? The answer is no. They became a bad team back in November when they put in a very poor performance against the Springboks. I contend now that there was something seriously wrong and we actually need to change what we're doing, otherwise there is another disastrous World Cup heading our way.

There are two elements to look at -- what is happening off the pitch and what is happening on it.

Years ago during the space race, NASA spent billions working on a pen that would work in zero gravity, that would work upside down, that would work in minus 300 degrees. Meanwhile the Russians were handing out pencils.

Whatever Ireland are doing in their preparations in the physiological conditioning, it is wrong and they need to adapt very quickly. By adapt I don't just mean tweak, but a radical overhaul of their approach thus far because they are week on week becoming progressively worse and this series of poor performances will, cancer-like, start to feed on them. One thing they do not have is time.

Three weeks is a very short period to stop the rot. We all know the things about inspiration and perspiration -- is it now time to examine the ratios. There is no lack of effort in what Ireland are trying to do and I would suggest changing the perspiration ratio from 90 per cent down. They need also to look at their ratios on the pitch between the physical and the psychological. Physically, Ireland are fine; mentally, they are below par; psychologically, they appear to be at crisis levels.

A lot of what Ireland attempted yesterday was born of frustration. They have this amazing facility to go from sentience to insanity in a trice. They had this ability yesterday to undo reasonably good approach work in one moment of carelessness. Ireland have to get their mindset right, otherwise they shouldn't bother setting foot on a plane tomorrow.

I watched Australia beat New Zealand in Brisbane earlier yesterday morning. The match in terms of quality was a parallel universe to what we saw in the Aviva yesterday. They demonstrated firstly that New Zealand are just flesh and blood and are becoming more and more vulnerable as the competition approaches.

Australia will have noted events in the Aviva yesterday and will have kakked themselves with a sense of foreboding as they wait to entertain Ireland in the second pool match. This is Ireland, the conquerors of Connacht. I fear for what will happen in that match.

England, it has to be said, were full value for their win yesterday. They are a very one-dimensional side, but limited is good if it is competent limitedness. They did not have to be too slick or extend themselves too much. They were clever, they were cynical and when they came to take their opportunities they were quite clinical.

They were hugely competitive in the air at lineout time, they read all our wraparounds and second-guessed all our fancy passing and they tackled with real intensity. It said something about the quality of the match when Mike Tindall is the best player on view, and he was. That this was a low quality game.

That is not to denigrate Tindall. A lot of the things that the England captain did were the basic observations of the fundamentals of the game.

England's back row, even without Nick Easter, dominated. Stephen Ferris was willing but a little bit off the pace. David Wallace's tackle into touch by Manu Tuilagi looked innocuous on first showing but the slow-mo showed why this injury could end Wallace's career. A disaster for Ireland and they will have to pick a rabbit out of a hat to get a number seven who can compete with the likes of Pocock and McCaw.

I would venture the name Donnacha Ryan but then again I'm not picking the team. There was also a doubt about Jamie Heaslip but it now seems as though he will be able to travel. Another player whose performances have been symptomatic of the malaise in the side at this moment in time.

Despite their back-row woes Ireland lacked leadership and once again Paul O'Connell, icon that he is, just doesn't seem to be able to inspire Ireland or lead them to victory. It's a restatement of the obvious that whatever Ireland are doing on and off the pitch at the moment isn't working and problem recognition is the first step. If they don't think quickly through management and on field leader all is lost.

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