‘Stupid, bad sec­ond halves have cost us in the cam­paign’

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Rugby Six Nations - GERRY THORN­LEY at Twick­en­ham

THINK BACK to those third-quar­ter surges by Ire­land through­out the Grand Slam cam­paign of four sea­sons ago – notably in Cardiff af­ter be­ing held score­less in the first half. It was cer­tainly in stark con­trast to this cam­paign.

High im­pact though the bench made against Italy and Scot­land, in the games at home to Wales and away to France and Eng­land, Ire­land scored 33 points and con­ceded 20 in the three first halves. Af­ter the in­ter­val, how­ever, the ag­gre­gate tally was 14 points for and 50 against.

Quite what this tells us is a moot point. Cer­tainly it is a sig­nif­i­cantly changed Ir­ish dress­in­groom, though save for Gert Smal be­ing tem­po­rar­ily re­placed by An­thony Fo­ley (who is a shrewd reader of the game) the man­age­ment and back-up staff is largely the same.

By con­trast, only six of the start­ing XV lined up for the kick-off here, while 13 of the match-day squad had changed. Hav­ing reached their Holy Grail, per­haps there has been a slight di­lu­tion of the col­lec­tive de­sire but more likely there’s been a short­fall in tac­ti­cal lead­er­ship with the loss of their two Lions’ cap­tains Brian O’driscoll and Paul O’con­nell.

In any event, Tommy Bowe echoed the pre­vail­ing Ir­ish view that they were still in this game at half-time but ad­mit­ted: “Maybe see­ing the scrum go­ing back­wards puts some­thing into your head but I think play­ers were just frus­trated and maybe try­ing to force passes or drop silly balls, let­ting balls fall on the ground. It is un­char­ac­ter­is­tic of us, re­ally, and we need to have a look at our­selves. It wasn’t good enough.”

Con­tin­u­ing this theme, Bowe drew a re­veal­ing con­trast with the Grand Slam year. “Con­sis­tency is al­ways a prob­lem. I think we are a top team and I think we have showed it. To­day we maybe could have and should have been play­ing for a Grand Slam. We were ahead against Wales, de­spite not play­ing that well and we were ahead against France but stupid, bad sec­ond halves have cost us in the cam­paign.

“Com­ing in at half-time is nor­mally where we’re re­ally strong. The year we won the Grand Slam, half-time was when we re­ally took it to the next level but this year that’s where we’ve lost it a lit­tle bit. I think that’s down to our­selves, re­ally. That’s where we need to pick it up and that’s where the prov­inces are do­ing it.”

When pressed on Ire­land’s lack of con­sis­tency, Bowe said: “I don’t know if it’s in our heads or what. I think we’ve just switched off at times and that’s an in­di­vid­ual thing – that can’t be a team thing – and that’s some­thing we’re go­ing to have to ad­dress be­cause we’ve three long months and that’s left a very sour taste in our mouths.

“It’s a very quiet chang­ing-room and we’re re­ally go­ing to have to pick our­selves up and take it on to an­other level if we’re not to be made a joke of down in New Zealand.”

The day that was in it, with such a huge Ir­ish fol­low­ing, only made the dis­ap­point­ment more acute, ad­mit­ted Bowe.

“The hype has been enor­mous since the very first week of the Six Na­tions. This has been the game ev­ery­body has been talk­ing about. Peo­ple have been on to me for tick­ets for so long and the script was writ­ten there for a good day. We’ve let our­selves down and let the Ir­ish peo­ple down.”

The con­dem­na­tion be­gan in the away dress­in­groom and con­tin­ued with Seán O’brien’s con­fes­sion that it had been “pretty em­bar­rass­ing, to be hon­est. We’re not too pleased about it. It’s a hard one to take. We got blown away in our scrum and things led on from there re­ally.

“A lot of things were in the scrum. It’s a mas­sive part of the game. There were a few knock-ons and turnovers as well. They scrummed ev­ery­thing and went for­ward. It was slippy enough out there but a lot of stuff came from them. It was very greasy, es­pe­cially in the first half. Both sides put the ball to ground but that wasn’t the los­ing of the game for us, re­ally.”

While he main­tained Ire­land had been good in “a lot of other ar­eas”, he ad­mit­ted: “I’ve never been in­volved in a game like that where the scrum has been so dom­i­nant for one side. It’s hard. Es­pe­cially as a back­rower – the other two lads will tell you the same. When your scrum is go­ing back­wards, it’s hard for you to make an im­pact. But there are other lit­tle bits and pieces we have to look at as well.”

Ad­mit­ting that it was the most dis­ap­pointed he’d felt af­ter an Ir­ish game, O’brien said: “I think there’s pos­i­tives there, yeah, but at the end of the day we beat Italy and Scot­land and [to­day’s play was] just not good enough for this group of play­ers.

“If we want to be one of the best sides in the world, we’re go­ing to have to have a good look at our­selves and re­ally fo­cus on the ar­eas [where] we’re poor at the minute. When we re­group we’ll look at those things and go over to New Zealand con­fi­dent. Ob­vi­ously they’re the best in the world and we’ll be go­ing out there as best we can.”

Pho­to­graph: Inpho

A dis­ap­pointed Ire­land cap­tain Rory Best.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.