Sport Rugby

Sunday 25 February 2018

Only going to get worse for sorry Ireland

All Blacks' Julian Savea runs in to score a try during their test match against Ireland at Eden Park in Auckland. Photo: Reuters
All Blacks' Julian Savea runs in to score a try during their test match against Ireland at Eden Park in Auckland. Photo: Reuters
Tony Ward

Tony Ward

Three inter-hemisphere clashes and three wins for the south. Nothing unusual about that, but where the Welsh and English made a fair fist of it against the Wallabies and Springboks respectively, save for a spirited opening salvo, we were blown to bits in a mis-match in Eden Park.

Yes, there were mitigating circumstances, with the absence of the key quartet at tight-head, lock, flank and wing proving the insurmountable obstacle we knew it would be.

Hard though the replacements tried, the gulf proved beyond all four.

I'd hoped that we could cover up our inadequacies, but the All Blacks play at a different pace and different level of intensity to anything we can devise (even in theory) before facing them down.

Given that this was their first game in eight months, the world champions will only get better. Unless there's a deluge, you fear for what lies ahead in Christchurch and Hamilton over the coming fortnight.

On Saturday we were competitive, varied and committed in the opening quarter, and the All Blacks led 9-3.

However, once Julian Savea crossed for his opening try of three on 26 minutes, the only real question was how much the hosts would win by.

In the end, 'only' four tries separated the sides, but in truth their five could have been eight or nine, while our solitary touchdown was what it was, an opportunistic breakaway.

It put a better look on the scoreboard, but apart from a reasonable scrum and a competitive scrap at the breakdown (with Sean O'Brien, Cian Healy and Rory Best to the fore), New Zealand were in control of every other facet of the game.

The clearest difference between the sides was in the quality and precision of offloading in the tackle. Through well-honed technique, natural strength (particularly from Sonny Bill Williams) and sheer desire to make the supporting link, All Black continuity rugby is in a different stratosphere.

It is for that reason, more than any other, I fear what might lie ahead.

In 80 minutes we have gone from cautious (most would say unreal) optimism to damage- limitation for Tests two and three.

Factor in the emotion of Christchurch -- hosting its first international since an earthquake devastated the city in February 2011 -- and it is impossible not to dread the worst.

Only divine intervention in the guise of South Island winter weather at its worst can spare us another almighty beating.

If ever that siege mentality -- circle the wagons, the world's against us -- was required, this is it.

Saturday was a severe humbling. Morale is on the deck. You'd like to think the only way was up, but this is New Zealand in New Zealand.

Just how do they improve? Certainly a big increase in influence is required at No 8, scrum-half and out-half.

Declan Kidney is doing himself or his squad few favours in the tweedle-dum, tweedle-dee approach at out-half.

Purpose

What purpose was possibly served in calling Jonny Sexton ashore with 20 minutes to go? That decision smacks of a coach not fully at ease with his initial call.

There is more immediate concern at scrum-half, where Conor Murray, after all the initial promise, has regressed since his arrival in the Test side in the autumn.

The physicality he brought to the position, allied to an astute and generally accurate kicking game, is no longer in evidence, and, on form, he should be second to the more high-tempo Eoin Reddan in the pecking order.

Whichever Kidney picks for Christchurch, would it be too much to ask that livewire Ulster No 9 Paul Marshall be on the bench?

Of the rest, Simon Zebo showed enough to deserve a second run, while Donnacha Ryan (our most effective player) and Rob Kearney led as you would expect.

Beyond that, Jamie Heaslip, despite an industrious afternoon defensively, must demand more of himself, particularly from any opposition scrum close to the try-line.

The beauty of sport lies in its unpredictability --but South Island and what lies ahead for Ireland over the next fortnight, looks all too predictable.

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport