I’ve deleted the first two drafts of this guys, bear with me. Last Friday’s loss in Cardiff was not only deeply upsetting in relation to Ireland’s title hopes – it was easily the most infuriating performance from the green army since Schmidt took charge of the team. Yes, I even include the Argentina loss in the World Cup and the 2013 loss to the All Blacks in there. This was awful.
We are a great country for drawing the knives once Ireland suffer a loss and more than any other nation we immediately call for heads to roll. I don’t think there’s any need for this here – yet – but we now know for certain that there is a rotten core somewhere that needs eradicating. Under Eddie O’Sullivan and Declan Kidney Ireland had the same persistent self destructive issues. Every time the red zone and immortality beckoned, they bottled it. Once we got beyond that 2013 loss to New Zealand, this Ireland side has steered clear of that far more. There was the World Cup exit and that lost tour last year that was there for the taking, but the positives have far outweighed the negatives. Back to back Six Nations titles, first win in Paris in nearly two decades, first ever tour win against Argentina, first November clean sweep in nearly a decade, all World Cup pool games won for the second year running, first ever win against South Africa on their turf, first ever win against the All Blacks, second ever side to beat all the southern hemisphere teams in the one year. Do you see that list? That’s a winner’s list. So why in the hell are these players going over to Cardiff and missing out on nearly ten gift edge chances to score. Why in the hell were they hanging on by a thread? How in the hell did they not put a shaky first half performance from Wales to the sword and capitalise on the errors?
In case it wasn’t obvious already, I’m seriously pissed off. But it’s different to the old days. The old days found me tearing my hair out and ready to break shit over how mind numbingly infuriating the bridesmaids had played this week. This is different. This team now finally are world beaters, no question, and it’s like they don’t want to believe it. We couldn’t still possibly be that Irish about it that we just simply don’t want to be favourites, could we? The disallowed try from the maul for obstruction probably tells the whole tale on it’s own to be honest. Ireland were in for a certain try and it’s as if Robbie Henshaw wanted to maintain our opposition try line inconsistency by joining the maul ahead of Rory Best, who was a split second away from falling over the line. Why are this team behaving like a Tier 2 nation that can’t believe their luck?
I’m hitting pretty heavy on the players here but there are more than just performance issues to be dealt with here. The use of the bench last Friday in particularly leads to some unsettling analysis. Conor Murray stayed on the pitch even whilst clearly injured. I don’t care how important a player is, their welfare comes first. We have since been informed it was one of those fabled stinger injuries and it is true that players can usually shake them off, but whilst playing with one functioning arm it was hard to not worry for Murray’s safety out there. Sexton was rattled and to be honest, Jackson and Marmion playing the second half would have been more favourable, though I myself admittedly didn’t even think that at the time. CJ Stander played an absolute blinder but somehow was subbed off for O’Mahony when either of his back row partners were more deserving of the bench. Rob Kearney also seems to be through his purple patch and out the other side. Even Rory Best had a pretty average game by his standards. The worst bit of news here is that this weekend’s game is of such importance that changes to the squad are pretty much impossible. Ireland have a fourth place world ranking to try and preserve, as well as a second place finish. And of course they have a party to spoil, though that just shouldn’t be a thing for this team nowadays.
This weekend still, even with this latest variable thrown in, looks set to be a cracker. The Old Enemy in Dublin on Paddy’s weekend, England looking for a second consecutive Grand Slam, Ireland looking to stop that as well as a record setting 19th consecutive victory. Keep in mind that Ireland have not lost at home under Schmidt yet in the Six Nations and that the fact that the buzz should still prove to be astronomically high; yep there’s very little bite gone out of this one. In the aftermath of Friday’s game I’ve taken in the broad range of media and fan response. Seemingly I’m falling into the bracket of overreacting, which wouldn’t be the first time, and I maybe don’t entirely disagree. I’m pissed, as I may have mentioned already, and I’m a demanding fan of an Irish team that have been more successful over the last 3 years than any have been before. With that in mind, I’ll put a comma at the end of my statements above, awaiting a period or deletion after this weekend’s game. I do feel that Ireland playing for table position and spoiling the English team’s party is fairly paltry given their standard but it is all we have, and a confident win this weekend could be the start of yet another cycle. A loss….well, I don’t think there’s a keyboard strong enough to handle the furious typing that will follow. Truth be told this has been kind’ve a f**ed up Six Nations. We can safely say now that England are at present the greatest team in the northern hemisphere. Scotland, over the course of 3 Six Nations weekends, have gone from title contenders, to average losers, then back on the route to greatness…and then they get beaten in Twickenham by a record margin. Wales have just got no sign of consistency to them either. It’s as if the rest of the nations aside from England are throwing out the old concept of a certain nation having a winning period of months/years at a time and just taking turns game by game, meanwhile England are riding high as the elite. No nation will look back too fondly on this year’s tournament outside of the English and maybe banishing it to the history books like 2010 and 2013 is what is needed for this Irish squad too.