IRELAND were better this weekend but enough to reach a World Cup semi-final?
Not by a long shot.
At one point during this game when the scoreboard read 3-22, Ireland would have been ranked number one in the world. Thanks be to God it didn’t end that way because it have been an incredibly false barometer to judge where Ireland stand and it would have heaped a whole lot more pressure on this squad. Exactly what they don’t need.
The World Cup ranking system is a joke.
It was great that we just about hung on to win but this was Ireland B v Wales B and apart from restoring a smidgen of pride that was lost during last week’s English debacle, all this encounter did was ask more questions than it gave answers.
Apart from possibly four players who would regularly feature on Joe Schmidt’s first choice 15, everyone else on this Irish side was hoping that their performance on this occasion was going to cement for them a plane ticket marked for Japan.
Now, if Joe Schmidt is to pick players on form for what he considers to be his best 15 rather than those who have played so gallantly over the last few seasons, Will Addison should be replacing Rob Kearney, Kieran Marmion should be switching with Conor Murray, Niall Scannell should be donning the number two jersey, Jack Conan should be commiserating with CJ Stander and dear I even suggest it, Jack Carty should be navigating the ship.
There would also be an argument for Dave Kilcoyne to make the starting 15 but Cian Healy, until he got injured in the English game, was Ireland’s only respectable contributor.
Kilcoyne, just as he had been for Munster all season was immense not only as a scrummager but also as a ball-carrier and distributer. I’d reckon the Limerick man wasn’t that far off from leaving Cardiff with the Man of the Match award, though that deservedly went to Jack Carty.
I guess it might be a bit unfair to place Carty above Sexton but Schmidt can now rest assured he has a very capable and sturdy back up if Sexton gets injured or if Joey Carbery fails to recover.
Ireland’s inventiveness was slightly better at the weekend and it was very interesting to see Carty use the channel on his inside shoulder on more than one occasion, especially with two big ball carrying centres on his other shoulder.
All year the Connacht fly-half has displayed a brand of risk-taking that might not exactly fall within Schmidt’s blueprint but is refreshing to watch.
There is no way either Sexton or Carbery should travel unless they receive ample game time next Saturday to prove their match fitness and against what we can presume will be a full-metal-jacket Welsh team.
Warren Gatland will not have been happy that his players didn’t give him a winning send-off in his last time over Wales at home.
His 12-year tenure will end after the Rugby World Cup when he will return to New Zealand to coach the Hamilton-based Chiefs. This move would also allow him the opportunity to throw his hat in the mix for the All Blacks job should it arise at some point.
Gatland, who has guided Wales to four Six Nations titles, including three Grand Slams would have loved to wave goodbye to his Welsh fans on a winning note.
However, as one of the firm favourites to win the World Cup, I am sure returning to Cardiff with the William Webb Ellis trophy would make up for this disappointment.
Today, Joe Schmidt will submit his list of 31 names to World Rugby for the World Cup but will not confirm it until after next Saturday’s return clash with Gatland’s men.
This is a horrible time for both players and coach and some of the phone calls that Schmidt will have to make will be heartbreaking. As a player, it’s probably the one time you do not want to see Joe Schmidt’s number appear on your phone.
Next Saturday should give us a much better indication as to where this Irish squad are in terms of being considered serious contenders in Japan.
Yet to think that there are at least six or even seven positions on the team that are still up for debate, doesn’t exactly inspire a massive amount of confidence. Does it?
We live in hope but at this stage, hope is all we have unless there is a colossal swing in how this side performs over the next four games.
Three weeks to go.