Friday 23 February 2018

Kidney's troops smothered by own inadequacy

David Kelly

David Kelly

It was in another, entirely poignant context, but Simon Zebo's post-match comments summed up the mood of a bleak afternoon in the Old Town when even the black stuff didn't seem enough to lift the spirits of a subdued population.

"Sports unpredictable!thats why we love it!injury is part and parcel!in gods hands now so all will be good!!thanks for the messages much love," he tweeted.

From unabashed heroism one week to grounded desperation the next, Zebo's luckless departure from a championship he had already so impressively illuminated mirrored Ireland's lurch from one wild extreme to another.

After the thrills of Cardiff, the spills of Dublin. Championship teams offer composure and clarity; Declan Kidney's class of '09 offered such elements in spades. They lacked both of these ingredients yesterday.

At the end of proceedings, they stood marooned in the gloaming, swamped by a deluge of their own inadequacies which rained down as persistently as the uninterrupted downpours.

Instead, it was Stuart Lancaster's belligerent English side whose well-marshalled intentions spoke so voluminously and, in their own way, offered a flattering comparison to their subjugated erstwhile Grand Slam winners.

Kidney's Ireland, whose inaccuracy littered yesterday's uninspiring yet compelling renewal of these fiercest of rivals, continue to confound in their maddening inconsistency.

If this were the game of the tightest of margins, then an Irish team wholly capable of operating towards the peak of its supposedly considerable powers, should have been able to effect the victory.

That they didn't raises all the familiar questions about just how convinced observers really should be in terms of this squad's ability to continually occupy the upper echelons of the game.

Presented with the opportunity, backed by clear momentum, to place England in mortal danger when James Haskell was binned, Ireland somehow managed to lose the sin-bin period 6-3.

It is indicative of Ireland under Kidney since the Grand Slam; seemingly primed to deliver something a little more substantial than what they ultimately achieve.

Instead it was England, with dominant half-backs led by the inestimably cool Owen Farrell, who responded to the most severe questioning to slowly trundle towards the finishing line.

Ireland just fumbled. In the end, they didn't have any answers. This was never going to be a beauty contest; we just didn't expect Ireland to be so ugly.

When Ronan O'Gara missed that final penalty chance, one longed for the memory of a side who would have insisted on using one of their truly functioning weapons – the maul – in an attempt to score the try that never looked like arriving from any other route.

Sadly, as Brian O'Driscoll and Sean O'Brien hobbled from ruck to ruck and even the great man succumbed to the malaise of dropping simple balls, it was evident that England were looking more like title winners than Ireland.

True, the championship remains undecided, but surely now England's title claims are incontestable; of more concern are Ireland's chances of beating Scotland away without Jonny Sexton, Zebo and the potentially disciplined Cian Healy.

"It is not a significant setback at all," countered Rob Kearney, more effectively than he did on the field during a worryingly subdued display when his opposite man comprehensively out-punched him.

"It would have been a huge high for us to have won the game. There was only a couple of kicks in it. At six-all we looked in a really good place and as if we were the team building that momentum.

"We started playing a bit more ball in their half. The sin-bin, did that throw us a bit? Did we try to play a bit too much rugby because we were against 14 men?

"There were five minutes there around the 60-minute mark where the game got turned on its head a bit. We started playing a bit more ball in our own half and then with 10 minutes to go you are chasing things. Then it becomes more difficult."

Kearney reiterated the point that England were able to control the game from their 6-0 advantage, but Irish errors were primarily at fault for ceding such a lead in the first place.

The tenor of the game was established from these early faults, particularly from the Irish captain. England simply waited for Ireland to make mistakes. Ireland made plenty.

Kearney conceded that England's kicking game was also better and that the visitors imposed their tactics on the game more forcefully than the hosts.

The more Ireland failed to copperfasten territory, the more desperate their attempts to return there. It was a deadening spiral and, aside from being suffocated by England's stout defence, Ireland were also smothered by their own indecision and inadequacy.

"Both teams played in the same conditions but we seemed to cough the ball up more than they did," noted Mike Ross, pillar of one of the game's post-Twickenham ironies, an efficient scrum.

"We're pretty frustrated. We had opportunities and didn't take them.


"Scoring opportunities were hard for both teams but when you get into the opposition '22' you have to make it count otherwise it could be a long time before you're back there again."

With Craig Gilroy name-checking Scotland as the proverbial banana skin, it hardly helps that Ireland are now stumbling headlong into that particular fixture.

Kearney, though, dismissed any talk of England compiling a Grand Slam in the manner of Ireland's 2009 triumph; after all, he still has designs on the trophy for his own team.

"We've one win and one defeat," he insisted. "England are the only team now with two wins and they still have France and Wales, so this competition is wide open still. We have to look to that and realise we are still hugely in the hunt.

However, that would require England to falter and Ireland to once more, as they have been forced to do so often in recent times, bounce back from an unexpected setback.

While Irish supporters had been encouraged by the evidence of Cardiff that seemed to suggest their side had cast aside the recidivist tendencies that have seen triumph followed all too quickly by despair, this defeat invites all manner of scepticism.

For, just when Kidney seemed to be on the verge of delivering a wholly persuasive argument as to his ability to guide this side towards the 2015 World Cup, fresh doubts have once again emerged and another championship challenge is swaddled in doubt.

As Irish supporters wearily dodged the flooded pavements of Dublin 4, knowing that it would be superfluous to drown their sorrows, it was difficult not to believe that Kidney too may soon be swimming against the surge.

Irish Independent

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