CONSIDERING Ireland were on the cusp of becoming the world’s number one rugby team, and that the provinces are successfully on the European stage, I believed I’d never see a scoreline or a performance again like we witnessed last Saturday afternoon: England 57-Ireland 15.
Ireland were pathetic. Other descriptions might be shambolic, embarrassing, inept, and gutless. Ireland misfired.
In their defence, people will argue that this match meant nothing. Just a runout before the real action commences in Japan. Just an opportunity for Joe Schmidt to tinker with his game-plan and get his players up to speed. I would disagree.
England versus Ireland in Twickenham should be motivation enough. When you return to the dressing room, having missed 34 tackles and having conceded eight tries, there are no excuses.
This is international rugby and every player is a highly paid athlete. Those athletes have every conceivable tool at their disposal to compete at this level. From what I saw on Saturday, the only complete part of Ireland’s performance was the deep tan the players were displaying after their warm-weather training camp in Portugal.
No-one looked upset; no-one got pissed-off or annoyed. Apart from one decent tackle, by Cian Healy, every other time an English player ran at Ireland’s brittle defence, they either made it well over the gain-line, were able to off-load, or sauntered through and dotted the ball down over the try line.
It would be wrong of me not to applaud how England played because they were imperious. They have a real chance of regaining the title they won in 2003.
Apart from the scrum, which was was even stevens, Ireland came out second-best in every other facet of the game. Rory Best was anonymous as a leader and had a nightmare with his attempts to find his man in the line-out, but the captain cannot shoulder all the blame. At 37, his time is up.
This is a young man’s game and Best cannot give us the kind of impact that a hooker needs at test-match level.
For some of the other players, this game was an opportunity to stake their claim for a Japan-bound plane ticket, but they will be having sleepless nights between now and when the final squad is announced.
Munster’s Jean Kleyn, who measures 6’ 7”, is one of those players. For all his size and athleticism, he was a passenger from the kick-off, until Devon Toner replaced him shortly after half-time. Out of his seven carries, he amassed five metres. That’s an average of 0.7 metres per carry. If he just fell forward every time he got the ball, he would have gained more ground.
Give me Donnacha Ryan any day. Oh, sorry, Kleyn is South African, which means he has to be better than Ryan, or any other young, aspiring second-row that this country can produce. If Kleyn was international standard, I can guarantee you he would not have been allowed to leave South Africa at 22 years of age.
The stats are listed on the IRFU’s website and Kleyn is not the worst.
Ireland’s entire backrow was as bad and, as an entity, outclassed.
There is no point in looking for positives.
The best thing this squad could do is sit in a closed room with no coaches present and list out a few home truths.
For sure, Ireland head coach, Joe Schmidt, could loosen his rigid, unadventurous game plan, but, apart from that, there is no time to change how this team goes about its business.
The only people who matter are the players and if their attitude and mental resolve are not transformed between now and September 22, when they meet Scotland, they will be watching the quarter-finals from the comfort of their own living rooms.
Last Saturday was a dark day for Irish rugby.