‘Stupid, bad second halves have cost us in the campaign’
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.”
A disappointed Ireland captain Rory Best.