The David Corkery column: Irish rugby needs to accept a new style is vital to progressing against the elite teams

The David Corkery column: Irish rugby needs to accept a new style is vital to progressing against the elite teams
Peter O'Mahony of Ireland fails to meet a crossfield kick to the try line by team-mate Jonathan Sexton on Sunday. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

OH boy, why is it that the truth is always so hard to accept?

They say that the scoreboard never lies however, as the seconds and minutes rolled by during Sunday’s Guinness Six Nations game between England and Ireland, the Twickenham scoreboard displayed a final tally that painted a picture that suggested the game was close.

If the truth be told the 24-12 scoreline was a complete injustice to England’s dominance and were it not for a few unforced errors, the 12-point disparity would have been a hell of a lot more.

I never really look at player ratings because everybody has a different perspective, but few if any of the Irish players merited more than a five out of 10.

For some players in the green jersey it will be a day they will want to erase completely from their memory bank and for others it will act as a lesson that they either study intensely and take on board the many learnings or they step a side and let the next generation begin their journey.

It might be slightly unjust to single out any individual for criticism on this occasion because nobody really had a good game however, since Andy Farrell has completely changed the way these players go about their business on the field by allowing them to make their own decisions, all the shackles are now off.

Apart from one or two good strong tackles from Conor Murray in the opening few minutes of the game everything the Munster man did fell well wide of the mark that is required at test level rugby.

I realise that some of his actions were as a direct result of coming under immense pressure by the English forwards however, coping with this and executing the assessments he makes are all part of his play making role as a number nine and they were simply not up to scratch.

His distribution was slow and as a result it allowed the English defensive line to easily get set after each phase.

His kicking from the base was either too far for his chasers to contest or not far enough to make it a worth while harvest however, the biggest failing that he showed on the day was that he did not take control of the eight forwards that he has complete responsibility for guiding around the park.

As a forward when your head is stuck between a whole pile of arses or you are buried at the bottom of a ruck you are wholly reliant on your number nine to be your ears and eyes and where you go next is a direct result of what your scrum half does with the ball.

If Murray is not demoted to the bench for Ireland's next game against the Italians and replaced by Ulster’s John Cooney, Farrell should be sent for evaluation.

The other stalwart that needs a rest is Ireland’s captain Johnny Sexton.

I wouldn’t be so worried about his well below average performance on Sunday last because everyone is permitted to having an off day. However, unless we start allowing the next generation to experience the relentless pace of test match rugby we will end up with situations like what happened at the last World Cup when players like Rory Best were getting picked because of their service to the game.

At 34 years of age Sexton needs to be preserved like a fine wine and if I were Farrell here is what I would do.

Ross Byrne would be wearing the number 10 jersey against Italy and Jack Carty would be sitting on the bench.

If I were really brave, I’d even consider Irish U20s fly half Jack Crowley who is almost single-handily leading the way in their Six Nations campaign.

The philosophy I like to use in these instances is, if he is good enough, he is old enough.

This third game was one that both sides had to win for many different reasons. As soon as the first ball was kicked it was crystal clear that England had a desire that far outweighed Ireland’s and once again their power and brutal approach had them winning all the gain line battles.

For sure you might argue that the home side got a few fortuitous bounces of the ball which led to their first two try’s however, at this level luck is something that you make yourself and George Ford’s and Elliot Daly’s try’s were results of plays that were devised on the white board.

The return of the human wrecking ball that is Manu Tuilagi was a massive boost to Eddie Jones and because of his ball carrying capabilities, Jones was once again allowed to devise a game plan where his play makers were guaranteed go forward ball.

On this occasion Jones took a risk with a few team selections and they paid dividend.

Open side wing forward Tom Curry was rated as one of the best five players in the world last year and for Jones to move him from the flank to number eight was a big risk because of the very different tasks that both positions demand.

He also elected to play Courtney Lawes who traditionally occupies a birth in the second row to fill the number six jersey.

This was not as big a gamble as it allowed for another disruptive ball carrier to be present on the field.

The frightening thing for Ireland is that if England had the services of the brothers Billy and Mako Vunipolo, that their demolition rate would have been even more destructive.

This is Ireland’s first loss under the Farrell era and it is going to be fascinating to see how he copes with the pressure he is now under.

As any coach will tell you, when you are winning everything is bright and rosy in the garden and everyone will want to be your friend however, as soon as a loss is registered it doesn’t take long for your admirers to start retreating in to the dark recesses where the back-stabbing knives are being removed from the bottom drawers.

The next game that Ireland should be judged on is the game away to France. If we rate ourselves against Italy, who at this stage should not even be competing in the Six Nations, we are settling for mediocracy and the day we do that is the day we will hit the reverse gear.

Sunday was disappointing, but there are valuable lessons to be learnt here.

More in this section

Sponsored Content

Echo 130Echo 130


Read all about the monthly winner’s and more.
Click Here


Podcast: 1000 Cork songs 
Singer/songwriter Jimmy Crowley talks to John Dolan

Listen Here

Add to your home screen - easy access to Cork news, views, sport and more