Tuesday 21 November 2017

Tony Ward: If this is where game heading, you can have it

Maybe I'm getting grumpy in old age, but, on an entertainment scale of one to 10, this Ireland clash with Les Bleus rated a generous three.

Perhaps I'm expecting too much of professional players in atrocious conditions like those prevailing in Dublin 4 on Saturday evening, but, for this observer at least, here was a second successive draw between the countries that is best forgotten.

I accept both sides were under pressure, both coaches even more so, but if this is where test rugby is heading for, you can have it.

If endless, aimless kicking is your thing, then you were in seventh heaven. It is a long time since I have wanted a game to end way before its time. And not, I might add, in the hope that Ireland might shade it, but because the rugby was so brainlessly boring.

I had thought the issue of aerial ping-pong had been addressed by the IRB when empowering match officials to rigorously apply the offside law to players ahead of the kicker moving even one step forward. Well, that strict enforcement (which certainly yielded instant results) looks as if it has been lost in global translation, and the end product was the woeful fare we witnessed on Saturday.

Of course you must cut your cloth on days like this, but when both teams are adopting the identical brainless tactics driven by fear, then what you get is a mishmash of meaningless rugby. It is a long time since I have come away so disillusioned from an international game.

And if that seems a tad unfair, I'm guilty as charged. Yes, there were positives with the Rory Best/ Donnacha Ryan line-out radar working to maximum efficiency.

The line-out, such a disappointment in Edinburgh, was right back to its efficient best a fortnight on, irrespective of whether it was the outstanding Ryan, Peter O'Mahony or Sean O'Brien on the receiving end.

On the back of such an abundance of possession out of touch, the Irish driving maul was again the lethal weapon we know it can be. With Jamie Heaslip so much more prominent throughout, and the last to emerge for what was the definitive forward try just 12 minutes in, there were, indeed, definite signs of the Ireland of old.

Mix in Conor Murray's assertive control and much more varied kicking at the base and this was an Irish unit singing off the same sheet as that employed in the opening 40 minutes in Cardiff.

Paddy Jackson, too, looked confident and in control with that three from five goalkicking return providing the boost so essential for him to kick on from here. With Jonny Sexton destined for Oz with the Lions and Jackson, along with Ian Madigan, set for the US and Canada, it would appear, despite the denials, that Ronan O'Gara's long and distinguished Ireland career may, indeed, be at an end.

Against that was a second half in which we lost our way, failing to score and conceding 10 points in the process.

It would be easy to say the French deserved it, but save for the final salvo, they appeared disjointed, disorganised and even, at times, uninterested.

The decision to run with Freddie Michalak as operator-in-chief continues to amaze. To his credit, the scrum-half turned out-half showed great courage when stepping up to the final conversion, but quite what was the process that determined that he was the first-choice kicker ahead of Morgan Parra – and the main tactician ahead of Francois Trinh-Duc – is beyond me.

Certainly, from the hour mark, the massive French support were voicing their displeasure at one aimless kick upon another – not that we were any better in that period.


Although they were only trailing by seven and with 15 minutes left on the clock, I found myself looking at a French team and wondering where a match-saving try might come from. The handling conditions were extremely difficult, but from Michalak out they were shapeless and clueless in most everything they did.

We weren't an awful lot better, but did appear at least to have a predetermined strategy. outside runners on the switch, leading to the blindside winger coming in at an inside angle, looked at least appropriate to the conditions. The French by comparison appeared rudderless and clueless beyond the kick and hope.

The cynics can argue that it was the right result but, given the poorness of France right now, this, following on from Murrayfield, is another one that got away and whether or not Keith Earls was pushed in the late in-goal chase is almost an irrelevance.

But let's give credit where credit is due and say that for the visiting fans' outstanding rendition of their rousing pre-match anthem – which made you wonder who the home team was – they got to leave with something.

However, i must repeat, if this is where professional rugby is taking us you can have it.

It was merde, pure merde.

Irish Independent

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