De­feat shows shal­low­ness of Ir­ish pool

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Front Page - GERRY THORN­LEY at Twick­en­ham

IRE­LAND HAVE had mostly good days against the auld en­emy in lat­ter years, and the way Eng­land cel­e­brated only a sec­ond Six Na­tions win since 2003 in the fix­ture is tes­ti­mony to a new-found re­spect. But when it goes bad, my word does it go bad.

Su­per Satur­day? More sat­u­rated Satur­day, or Scrum Satur­day. This 30-9 beat­ing brought to mind the 33-10 de­feat here in 2008, which marked the end of the Eddie O’sul­li­van reign and, rather more un­fath­omably, the end of Brian Ash­ton’s as well.

With an­other sea­son on his con­tract, there’s no doubt about De­clan Kid­ney’s po­si­tion right now, even if the pres­sure on him has just been ratch­eted up an­other cou­ple of notches in ad­vance of next June’s daunt­ing three-test tour to New Zealand.

How­ever, in an­other odd­ity, its Stu­art Lan­caster who will have to re-ap­ply for his job as English coach. Hope­fully the RFU won’t give it to him, as he ap­pears to be do­ing a very ca­pa­ble job.

With all bar three of Eng­land’s points em­a­nat­ing from an em­bar­rass­ingly su­pe­rior scrum, it also brought to mind Dean Richards’ de­but game in 1986 at the same venue, when Paul Kennedy was called up for his one and only cap in place of the dropped Phil Orr and, on an icy skat­ing rink, the num­ber eight scored two tries off how­itzer English scrums with ref­eree Clive Nor­ling also award­ing a penalty try in a 25-20 win.

But on the day that was in it, with an ex­pat-en­larged Green Army re­viv­ing mem­o­ries of the World Cup, this was even more chas­ten­ing and, po­ten­tially, more dam­ag­ing. “Not good enough,” ven­tured Seán O’brien, as­suredly re­flect­ing the views of all.

“Look, to­day hurt,” ad­mit­ted De­clan Kid­ney. “It hurt a lot and if it didn’t hurt, we shouldn’t be here. Ev­ery­body will walk away from the last 20 min­utes of the game and that’s the bit that will re­ally hurt us. But we have to take a look at the first 60 where we turned over the ball so of­ten that if we got a few scores then all of a sud­den it changes things around. Now that would have been dif­fi­cult to­day be­cause you have to have a plat­form and we didn’t have it ob­vi­ously at scrum­mag­ing time.”

Tak­ing the core of the team to the well one more time (six of the pack and six of the backs started the last four in a row) above all else, this de­feat graph­i­cally demon­strated the shal­low­ness of Ire­land’s play­ing pool and in par­tic­u­lar the de­pen­dency on Mike Ross stay­ing fully fit, ide­ally for the en­tire 80 min­utes ev­ery time.

This may, wrongly, be in­ter­preted within the IRFU as fur­ther cause to press ahead with their mis­guided pro­pos­als re­gard­ing for­eign play­ers. But the years of in­vest­ment in Tony Buck­ley didn’t bear any fruition and it’s not the pres­ence of BJ Botha and John Afoa which is pre­vent­ing the de­vel­op­ment of tight­heads.

The schools, acad­e­mies and prov­inces have been fail­ing in this re­gard for years – even John Hayes and Ross were ef­fec­tively prod­ucts of the Ir­ish and English club games.

“I’d imag­ine that was the think­ing be­hind it,” said Kid­ney in ref­er­ence to the union’s pro­pos­als be­fore list­ing the other op­tions at tight­head – Ro­nan Lough­ney, Jamie Hagan and Stephen Archer – be­fore ad­mit­ting: “It’s not some­thing you can fast track and have a so­lu­tion to­mor­row but I think it’s some­thing that’s bla­tantly ob­vi­ous that needs to be sorted.”

The cricked neck which Ross picked up shouldn’t en­dan­ger his well-be­ing for Le­in­ster in their up­com­ing, sea­son-defin­ing games. There were no other scars – phys­i­cal at any rate – from the game, save for the usual and, of course, the bite marks on Stephen Fer­ris’ right hand. Nor were there any cit­ings of last night, although the match-cit­ing of­fi­cer has un­til 48 hours af­ter the game to take ac­tion.

This sour af­ter­taste will linger un­til June. With a world rank­ing of eighth in the year of a World Cup draw, that three-test as­sign­ment against the All Blacks – re­turn­ing to the Eden Park scene of their coro­na­tion for their first Test since the World Cup final, fol­lowed by a first, highly-emo­tional first Test in Christchurch since the earth­quake there – doesn’t of­fer much ev­i­dence of suc­cour.

The cir­cum­stances would ap­pear to nar­row Kid­ney’s scope for mak­ing fur­ther change, though then again Satur­day’s de­feat ar­guably makes that more of a vi­able con­sid­er­a­tion.

“That’s some­thing we could do. Ob­vi­ously the thing to do now is to see how the guys per­form in the com­ing weeks. You’re go­ing to weigh that up with the fact that our first match was on Au­gust 4th and we have a tour to go over to New Zealand.

“So you can ei­ther run from that or you can ac­cept the chal­lenge full on and that’s what we need to do. We’ll pick our best play­ers be­cause it’s im­por­tant that we rep­re­sent our­selves the best we can. But, are there chal­lenges ahead? Ab­so­lutely. Are we up for it? With­out a shadow of a doubt.”

Gert Smal’s health ap­pears to be more of a con­cern than was ini­tially con­veyed, but Kid­ney re­mained con­fi­dent that his for­wards coach would be back in situ come the New Zealand tour.

“He was ill for a while but he’s start­ing to re­cover now. I was talk­ing to him the other day and he’s start­ing to get back on his feet now again. So I’ll give him an­other week or two be­fore we sit down and see how he is far­ing. He’ll have been work­ing with his doc­tors just to sort things out but there’s ev­ery sign that he will be good for June.”

Jonathan Sexton looks shell-shocked dur­ing Satur­day’s game.

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