The success of Leinster and Munster, and indeed Ulster and Connacht, is seemingly non-transferable to the Irish international setup - based on the result against South Africa at the Aviva stadium on Saturday. It was a game in which Ireland were clearly out thought and out muscled, particularly in the second-half, the traditional time that southern hemisphere teams start playing winning rugby. Not unlike Leinster’s game plan on many occasion, where the result at half time matters little and is all about absorbing opposition pressure, before implementing the game plan in the final forty minutes. Obviously as long as there is not too much daylight between the two teams at the change over. Not unlike Tiger Woods playing with ease on Thursday and Friday’s and then getting down to business on Sunday – once “moving day” Saturday has not seen anything out of the ordinary from the rest of the field.
It is that professionalism all based on self belief that forms part of a winning mentality, and was clearly visible at Murrayfield, where the All Blacks just racked up the points as the second half as the clock ticked away against Scotland. In essence proving in professional sports that beating Usain Bolt over the first fifty metres counts for nought if one finishes last in the 100 metres. So winning the first half against the Springboks at home is somewhat delusional.
With Munster, Leinster and Ulster now coached by New Zealand coaches they seem more able to tweak and modify their teams to deal limited squads ravaged by injury. Or indeed develop plans against more talented sides to squeeze any possible marginal advantage for a winning results in the Heineken Cup, or RaboPro12. Which is now contrasting with the Ireland head Coach, who since the Grand Slam of 2009 seems locked in a system devoid of new ideas. Even struggling to find a new form of the game that could ensure the talented Ireland are quicker in the off load, more imaginative in midfield and able to surprise opponents.
It was clear that South Africa had done their homework. But then again a DVD from the RBS 6 Nations last year would have been as good fro analysis given little has changed – either in personnel or playing style. And as Ireland progressed through the match there was only one winner going to emerge. Albeit there were significant weaknesses given the injuries to Sean O’Brien, Brian O'Driscoll, Rob Kearney and Stephen Ferris.
However in the modern game of rugby lengthy injuries are part of any season now and so teams have to adapt. Including Ireland.
The news that Ireland have slipped one place in the IRB rankings and are now below their perennial world cup rivals, Argentina, makes the meeting on November 24th in Dublin a major contest. Based on the data current available it is hard to see the Pumas losing based on their current form, and the win at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday against Wales. Admittedly rather lacklustre and to a man the Red Dragons struggled to find a focal point for the first of the Autumn Series where their coach Rob Howley was planning a clean sweep. An objective which has now attracted some unkind observations for the stand in coach, who continues to deputise for the Lions coach Warren Gatland. On Saturday an imperious Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe led his side from the front, and was backed up by a squad fresh from playing their inaugural season with the big boys - in The Rugby Championship.
All of which does not bode well for Kidney who will still without the same players that were absent last Saturday.
On the field of play Ireland face a signs that their game plan still needs upgrading as a lot of ground was covered in midfield by South African centre Jean de Villiers, who was one stark reminder that Kidney lacks a Rougerie, Davies or Fofana. The punching and penetration of the former Munster centre a sign that in the modern game of multiple phases, bulk and speed at centre is a must, with Keith Earls - for all is jinks - is not a real option at this level. Nor is Gordon Darcy any more as he slips towards the twilight of his international career. Weaknesses all accentuated by the half back option of Conor Murray where the speed of delivery, or the lack of it, makes life for out half Jonathan Sexton over complicated. Against the Southern Hemisphere sides slowing the game down does not seem a suitable tactic for Ireland.
With the problems up front more than well documented it would seem that the arrival of Michael Bent – fresh from Taranaki - maybe an ideal solution to ensure Ireland can start to build from a solid scrum. And if the positive signs on Saturday are valid, after Bent came on as a substitute, then progress could be made with Fiji at the weekend. When needs must the devil rides and so what if Bent has moved ahead of others waiting their opportunity. In a results business the Irish coach needs to be more expedient and copy what other teams have done in positions of weakness.
This weekend will be another test for the most recent addition to the Ireland squad. As the game will be for Chris Henry and Peter O’Mahony in Limerick to learn their trade further from another wily south pacific opposition.
Which is a must considering the premature loss of David Wallace, the long term loss to injury of Sean O’Brien and the punishment Ferris’s body takes that makes him too oft unavailable. The technique and subtleties of the breakdowns, so ably displayed by New Zealand captain in Edinburgh showed the gulf in class with their hosts Scotland, with the Irish backroom still chastened from that 60-0 lesson in the summer to Richie McCaw and Company. For Kidney it offers his younger players some more time to learn what are now stock tricks for the numbers 6 and 7.
Pity Zimbabwe born David Danton was not of Irish descent rather than Scotland.
Indeed the number, with the disappointment of the Ireland captain on Saturday evidenced by his apology following his yellow card. Clearly Jamie Heaslip is not the finished article and also needs to make the step to international rugby, as opposed to romping with ease in the early rounds of the Heineken Cup.
In the end it all comes down to Declan Kidney, who seems to be locked in mindset that rewards some loyalties and fails to overcome his natural conservatism, leading to his side being very predictable. The price paid so far has been high with the untimely fall in rankings ahead of the seeding for the 2015 world cup draw next month. Made all the worse by a less than average 6 Nations season earlier in the year. Indeed that historic day in Cardiff is along ago and a reminder that Eddie O’Sullivan was a tad unfortunate, given he could not get a performance at the 2007 World Cup. Yet under Kidney they become Grand Slam winners with just two years. Doing so on enemy territory in Wales with almost the same squad..
It remains to be seen no whether that do or die game against Argentina later this month becomes a turning point for Declan Kidney.
Or the start of further bad news for the 2015 world cup after the draw is made on December 3rd.
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