The David Corkery column: Irish rugby issues ruthlessly exposed in embarrassment at hands of New Zealand

The David Corkery column: Irish rugby issues ruthlessly exposed in embarrassment at hands of New Zealand
Ireland's Johnny Sexton, Peter O'Mahony and Tadhg Furlong are dejected by their defeat. Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland

ONE step forward and six back.

Even if I wanted to, which I never would, there could be no possible way to dress this up. No possible way to lessen or play down the gulf in skill, pace, execution and clinical ruthlessness that existed between Ireland and New Zealand.

Advertised before the tournament as Ireland’s greatest ever opportunity to make it beyond the quarter-finals, it sadly ended up being nothing more than a training run for the All Blacks and a poignant end for many of Ireland’s longest performing servants. Rory Best and Joe Schmidt most notably.

I won’t say it was an embarrassment but this campaign was doomed shortly after the second warm-up game against England. To lose by a margin of 42 points against our greatest rivals was a total disrespect to all those who have gone before, and it painted a very clear and precise picture.

The All Blacks judge themselves on how they do in a World Cup whereas nearly all the others are just happy to be participating in one.

The false hope offered to many because of our victories over them in an exhibition game in Chicago and an end of season tour in Dublin, masked the actual size of the task at hand. And if it were not for Nigel Owens feeling sorry for us in the final quarter, the score would have even been more frightening.

As soon as the first ball was kicked, every physical and skill-based contest was won by an All Black. Every 50-50 ball, be it in the air or on the ground ended up in the hands of an All Black.

Individually, the Blacks easily won their one-on-one battles with their opponents. More importantly, each of their smaller subunits completely dominated proceedings. It was their second rows and back row that allowed for them to take such a stranglehold on the game.

This once again goes back to the age-old proverb that, forwards win games and backs determine by how much.

New Zealand captain Kieran Read led the charge. Locks Brodie Retallick or Sam Whitelock dominated all the confrontational challenges.

On the rare occasions when Ireland managed to take ownership of the ball, up stood the Blacks' backrow and smashed everything giving Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton zero go-forward ball to work with.

If the truth be told the game was over after 20 minutes when Aaron Smith grabbed his second try and for the many thousands of Irish supporters who travelled the disappointment was only just starting to take hold.

If I were to try and describe how the Blacks went about their business, I would say they hit Ireland like a tsunami, crushing and obliterating everything and anything that it came up.

No one can argue that Ireland did not try or did not stand front and centre when New Zealand came calling. However, the relentless intensity and crazy level of skill that the Blacks played with must have seemed completely alien to anything the Irish players had ever witnessed.

When you can afford to leave Sonny Bill Williams, TJ Perenara and Scott Barrett on the bench, it speaks volumes for just how strong your starting 15 is. Coach Steve Hansen will have been very pleased about how his charges performed, albeit, he probably would have preferred a sterner challenge considering their semi-final opponents will present with a much firmer test.

So, we say farewell to Joe Schmidt who brought us as far as he possibly could have with the quality of player he had at his disposal. Coming from New Zealand and knowing the gulf that existed between his players and the ones from his native land, it must have been really hard to piece together some kind of strategy that might, just might have caused a massive upset.

Schmidt would have known that his side's chances were minuscule. He did well to camouflage his inner beliefs in the build-up. 

The game plan that had brought him much success in the Northern hemisphere was never going to be able to match that being played in the southern half of the world. Anyhow, he will be remembered fondly, and he will always be welcome back in Ireland.

Rory Best has also laced up his boots in anger for the last time and like Schmidt, his contribution to the game of rugby will be recognised for a long, long time. Personally, I think he should have retired at the end of this year's Six Nations but what’s done is done and hopefully, he will still stay involved at some level in a coaching capacity.

There are probably a few other players who will also be thinking of leaving the boots behind in the dressing room very soon. Rob Kearney (33) and Johnny Sexton (34), great servants to the game but time is now against them.

It will be four years again before Ireland will get the opportunity to break new ground in a World Cup tournament and the game will have undoubtedly changed by then.

Where it is now and where it is going to end up is a mystery to everyone but the one thing I can guarantee you is that it is not in a good place.

For Ireland, it is back to the drawing board and I stand over my beliefs that we will not win a World Cup unless we lose one first and trust me when I tell you, we are miles away from that.

To sum it all up, Ireland’s participation in the tournament must be viewed as a complete failure because in order to have made this campaign a success, we had to make it beyond the quarter-finals and that did not happen.

Are we any better than we were four, eight, 12, 16 or 20 years ago?

The statistics will tell us no, but you might have a different opinion.

Good luck to all the remaining teams and dare I say it, England are probably the only other side who could win it, other than the All Blacks.

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