Thursday 17 October 2019

Neil Francis: 'Ireland should pack up and catch the next flight home'

Latest woeful display confirms that Schmidt's men haven't a hope of going beyond last eight

Ireland players react after the final whistle against Russia
Ireland players react after the final whistle against Russia
Deep impact: Keith Earls collides with Russia's Igor Galinovskiy. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Neil Francis

Neil Francis

Andy Reid is a name that many of you might not know. Currently he is head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs operating in the NFL. Previously Reid coached the Philadelphia Eagles. He has taken both teams to a certain point but never to the Promised Land.

Reid took a highly-fancied Kansas City Chiefs team to the AFC Championship last season but failed to deliver against the New England Patriots, who know exactly how to get the job done.

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Last week, in a stuttering performance against the Detroit Lions, who are by no means an exceptional side, the Chiefs only just ran out 34-30 winners. That would have been a little bit of an embarrassment given the firepower that his team possesses.

In the dressing room in the post-match speech to his team, Reid said that "not all of Mozart's paintings were perfect". It is a matter of some embarrassment that none of his players or any of the assembled press immediately picked up on it.

Ireland's performances in the last couple of games looked like something where they have been coached by a genius in another discipline. Joe Schmidt is somebody that I still rate as one of the best coaches currently plying their trade, but yesterday's performance was another 'Mozart painting' and, my God, it was far from perfect. In political parlance, Ireland must now consider their position.

In the deep recesses of our mind, we all expect Ireland to produce a heroic, exceptional performance against whoever they play in the quarter-final.

However, the unpalatable fact is that the team is so far off-kilter that you would wonder if they should just pack up their bags and leave before the inevitable happens.

A full-scale tonking or a heroic failure? Either one of these options just isn't worth the agony. To have to endure the unendurable. The Japanese samurai used to commit harakiri, which is a ritualistic disembowelling; this was principally done to restore honour. It is an option!

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It is true that a number of teams have not hit their stripes yet, but none have struggled as badly as the two Celtic cousins in pool A, with the fall-off in Ireland's performance levels being the most worrying.

Performance

Do we start analysis with individuals or the collective? I think it is important to look at Jordi Murphy's performance for the 20 minutes that he was on the field. It is true that he left in the 26th minute, but he was unable to contribute anything for the six minutes after he picked up his rib injury.

Murphy arrived in Japan on Sunday and, given the jet lag and the problems the body can have adapting, he still looked by far the sharpest player on the park. How is that? And, more importantly, why is that? Murphy has been out of the squad for the last four weeks - is that a clue?

Then we look at some of the individual performances. Jean Kleyn's performance was a disgrace. He carried the ball for zero metres. Those hard yards just seem to be very hard yards. He made six tackles, missed one, gave away one turnover and made one pass to a Russian player.

Apart from that, Kleyn did precisely nothing. He was completely outplayed by his Russian opposite numbers, as was his second-row partner Tadhg Beirne, who looked like he was injured when he was unable to pack down for the last scrum of the game.

There were some half-decent individual performances, but you would expect that against an almost exclusively amateur rugby team. The Russians were admirably resilient and, strikingly, they kept their shape and stamina going until about 10 minutes before the end of the game.

How can these amateurs do that? Physically, they were a match for Ireland up front and they seemed to win their lineout ball and their scrum ball far easier than Ireland could manage. They were difficult and illegal opponents at the breakdown and they flooded far more players into this area, even with 14 men on the pitch. Once again Ireland were operating on front-foot ball, but it was of no value once the Russians either got more men in to the breakdown or got set again for the next recycle.

This was a stagnant, thoughtless performance and once again Ireland's lack of cohesion was so disheartening. We heard about the head and shoulders applied to the ball prior to the competition and yet the amount of handling errors and, more importantly, unforced handling errors makes you wonder whether it was just the conditions.

Errors of this kind sometimes mirror what is going on in the camp. If the team say mood and morale are good at this juncture, well who am I to question it?

Bundee Aki knocked the ball on four times during the match from very simple situations. How does that happen? The longer the match went on, the further Ireland retreated into themselves.

In fairness, Russia did not present themselves to be turned over. From the 35th minute to the 65th minute Ireland did not score any points, when you would have backed them to put a marker down and depress the accelerator.

As soon as Sexton went off, all of Ireland's mental starch and tactical discipline went out the window.

There was no tact or guile or imagination in anything that they did for long periods of the game, and when they did get close to scoring opportunities they panicked or rushed it or got white-line fever.

Occasions

This is not the sign of a team that is holding their special plays back for the big occasions. Ireland butchered several opportunities here and nobody can convince me that when it counted against far stronger opposition that they would be able to convert those chances.

Jack Carty reminds me of one of those kids who has all the skills in a schoolyard kickabout, but you would not under any circumstances expect him to control a tricky semi-final in a schools cup competition.

Our back three, who looked ill-at-ease with any contestable ball in the air, finally got into the game in an offensive manner in the last quarter. Keith Earls, who looks electric, and Andrew Conway along with Jordan Larmour, finally did what they should have been doing all game long.

Ireland will beat Samoa but if they are not in a position to give everything against either New Zealand or South Africa - absolutely everything - then they should spare us the agony and come home.

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