Monday 26 February 2018

George Hook: ‘If Heaslip stopped tweeting and instead studied more video, he might get some idea of how peripheral he is to Ireland’s cause’

Jamie Heaslip reacts after Andrew Trimble's try just before half time
Jamie Heaslip reacts after Andrew Trimble's try just before half time

The much-feared Scottish banana skin proved a damp squib. Ireland did a lot of good things, from incisive leadership to outstanding individual performances, but in truth the visitors were terrible and bereft of the most fundamental attacking methodologies.

That said, they had to be beaten and Ireland put them away with a lot more huff and puff than necessary.

The first half was nip and tuck until Andrew Trimble scored a soft try on the stroke of half-time.

The second half was scoreless and Scotland, incredibly, were in the match until Sexton kicked a penalty with just eight minutes to go. Fergus McFadden put a gloss on the scoreboard with the match all but over.

Yet, this was a really good performance by a team that was shorn, through injury, of its best players -- with a neophyte captain and a suspect line-out.


The line-out, predictably, lost the standard 20pc of its throws but was good enough to take two from the previously impregnable Scottish set-piece.

Donnacha Ryan not only played well but called the line-out variations intelligently. He was undoubtedly Ireland's best player, but how he earned the Man of the Match award over Richie Gray was a mystery.

Ryan was admirably backed up by Peter O'Mahony, who reopened the debate about the need for an open- side flanker. He is not a natural No 7 but, like David Wallace before him, he understands the requirements of the position, unlike Sean O'Brien.

O'Mahony is no Richie McCaw but on Saturday he was invariably on hand to lubricate the breakdown.

Eamon De Valera looked into his heart when he wanted to know what was best for the Irish people. Declan Kidney seems to do likewise for his selections and, no doubt, he will go back to the tried and trusted trio for Twickenham.

O'Mahony and Ryan demonstrated how wrong Kidney has been in overlooking them to date. Ryan, not for the first time, completely outshone Donncha O'Callaghan and the veteran lock is lucky that Paul O'Connell is not in contention for Twickenham.

If Kidney picked on form, Jamie Heaslip would be the one to lose out. The No 8 has been outplayed by his opposite number in every match so far. If he took the headphones off and stopped tweeting and instead studied more video, he might get some idea of how peripheral he is to Ireland's cause.

On Saturday, his most obvious intervention came when he foolishly ran a penalty with three points on offer and was very lucky that Ireland subsequently manufactured a try.

Apart from a few individual performers like Gray and David Denton, the Scots were inferior in every phase. Even their scrum was demolished by an Ireland pack with Sean Cronin and Tom Court in the front row.

The scrum is the testosterone of rugby and for the blue set-piece to go backwards at a rate of knots was a clear indication of a morale malaise in the side, born of 13 defeats from 15 championship games.

Sadly, the game is fast becoming a whistle-fest, with the most dominant figure being the referee.

George Clancy in Cardiff and Chris Pollock here awarded a penalty every three minutes. Both referees may have been technically correct, but the games suffered.

Clancy destroyed the Wales and Italy game and neither referee showed any feel for the game. The IRB will soon face a dilemma whereby people will be unwilling to pay exorbitant ticket prices for poor spectacles.

Rory Best's leadership contrasted with that of Ross Ford. The Irish captain took the very brave decision to go for touch to initiate the set move for his own try, while Ford -- with a yellow card or even a penalty try beckoning after two infringements by Ireland at the maul -- went for the three points.

It was a precursor for the awfulness that was to follow from Scotland. Best clearly went on to the pitch hurt but soldiered on until the match was won.

Kidney correctly brought Ronan O'Gara on as captain and by moving Jonathan Sexton to 12, he allowed the younger man the full 80 minutes and also allowed him to continue to kick for goal.

However, all was not sweetness and light for Ireland. Gordon D'Arcy had another poor game and the Wexford veteran may only survive until the return of Brian O'Driscoll. Eoin Reddan may have brought some speed to the party but his box-kicking was truly awful.

However, the most worrying feature was, strangely enough, the defence so lauded in Paris.

The Irish defenders, and Tommy Bowe in particular, now come up at full speed ignoring opponents out wide. We have gone from the passivity against Wales to helter-skelter against Scotland.

The visitors' back play was awful and they were unable to get the ball wide, but the summer tour in New Zealand will be a different story.

England will be better in the backs but do not possess the sleight of hand to open up the predictable Irish defence. We will survive, but hopefully we will learn some lessons without much pain.

Ireland showed that flesh and mind are in good health for Twickenham. The six-day turnaround was not a disaster, though tired bodies took another battering. There may be an unseen toll, which will only become visible next week. For now let's rejoice in a job well done but not get over-excited before Twickenham.

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