Sunday 17 December 2017

Unendurable mediocrity of the lowest order

Tests Down Under make a mockery of Murrayfield malaise, writes Neil Francis

YESTERDAY morning I watched a Test match, a real Test match, a Test match of unquenchable intensity. It was something I had to do. A form of fascination which would fortify me against the unendurable mediocrity that I knew was coming at around 2.30 at Murrayfield.

How do we classify what took place yesterday afternoon? Bogus? Counterfeit? Certainly there were 30 rugby players, there was a rugby ball, apparently there was even one of the best referees in the world on hand, but any passing resemblance to a Test match was purely coincidental.

Yes we knew they would be rusty, we knew passes wouldn't stick, we knew there would be unforced errors and quite a few missed tackles but my god the institutional dourness and lack of quality was astonishing. Enthusiasm without intelligence makes for poor sport and as this match headed for a 6-3 victory to Ireland -- a match result that you would have seen on a rainy day in January in 1920 -- Scotland pulled a deus ex machina result out of the bag.

It does not matter whether Ruaridh Jackson's pass to Joe Ansbro was forward or not, Ireland had done enough defensively to fall over the line as victors in an inanely umambitious display of rugby.

There are a number of reasons why Ireland did not win this match, the first one being the back row that they selected to start this match. I was born in 1964 and I do not, even in my childhood memory, recall a back row of such poor quality representing Ireland at senior level. They were lamentable. And if you read in any other newspaper that this back row performed credibly then you must never judge that author's opinion ever again. You must understand what is coming around the corner in a month's time and if you look at standards then you look at McCaw and Kaino or you look at Elsom or Palu.

It is true that Ireland were looking to fill a vacancy but none of yesterday's back row would have got into a shadow squad of a Super 15 franchise. Leamy, to his credit, playing with a better back row around him, is still able to compete at international level.

Niall Ronan got a full 80 minutes in which he played about 10 minutes of rugby. In amongst some of his turnovers and missed tackles, he chipped away a quick turnover ball won on the ground in the 68th minute. Not even the great back row players can get away with that. Six minutes later after Ireland had already given away a penalty, Ronan came in from an onside position on the Scottish side and attempted to chip back the ball onto the Irish side, it was a yellow card and a moment of incredible stupidity as the side were under pressure. Mike McCarthy was completely anonymous and so far out of his depth it was embarrassing that he also finished the match. He was switched into the second row in the 51st minute when he missed Lamont and a straight up tackle. I don't know what Declan Kidney sees in this guy.

If Ireland attempted to play either of these players against Australia there would be a reaction somewhere between a horse laugh and what the jolly green giant emits at the end of his commercials. Australia would be embarrassed for us.

It was hard to extrapolate any thought or expression from Ireland in this tumbleweed international. Yes it is true that they did defend with admirable composure but they were never taxed physically or mentally by a clueless Scottish side and they were caught at the very end by a little bit of depth, from misfeeding by Morrison with an illegal block and ball watching as the Scots managed for once to commit men to get the pass wide. It was a lack of concentration and hopefully it will stop Ireland from trying to defend their way to victory against poor quality sides.

Neither side looked physically fit and quite a number of players simply did not perform anywhere close to booking their seat for New Zealand.

Paddy Wallace has been tried and tested and has failed on numerous occasions. Once again his defence was awful yesterday and one day he will cost this Ireland team as he nearly did at the Grand Slam back in 2009. Kearney's concentration was good and though he wasn't offensively a threat he made no obvious mistakes. Luke Fitzgerald looked like a peacock trapped in a turkey pen for the first time in a long time his credit side far outweighed his acts in the debit side.

If anybody did book their ticket to New Zealand it would be a third class ticket on a 1920s steamboat.

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