Defeat shows shallowness of Irish pool
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.