Scanning the newswires all week for team news, injury updates, the latest interviews and pre-match chat from the opposing camps. Up early on Saturday, paper bought, sports section devoured,…
…jersey donned, sofa secured, Brent, Conor and the Hooky Monster giving their tuppence worth in the lead-up. As the band strikes up to play the anthems I am eagerly glued to my seat. I am hopeful, Nathalie is hopeful, Nathalie’s socks are hopeful…
80 minutes later, the question I can’t shake is, “Why do I even bother?”
In the past decade we have been outdone by everyone else in Europe bar Italy and Scotland. England have won a Grand Slam, a few championships and a World Cup, France have won the last few 6Ns, Wales appeared from nowhere to nick a Grand Slam in 2005 before disappearing into obscurity until now but even so they still won the Championship and a Grand Slam to boot. We have no Championship, no Slam, no World Cup, no crowns save the Triple kind and those are bloody useless.
Eddie and the Art of the Impenetrable Interview
Eddie was scared of the Welsh. That’s the inescapable conclusion. His post-match interview revealed that he believed we could not compete with the Welsh if the game got any width on it. So he sent a team out to go 80 minutes without a single backline move. Like the coach in the film The Waterboy, who cannot concoct any new plays due to a mental block caused by his fear of a rival manager, Eddie seemed transfixed by the hyped arrival of the Gatland/Edwards blitz defence.
Horgan’s near miss in the first quarter was the only try chance we had all game. In addition, our defensive weaknesses out wide now seem proven to be systematic rather than simply Geordan Murphy’s fault. Perhaps some will just throw Andrew Trimble onto the heap of players they “would never pick again” because of a notable lapse but we yielded space in the wings to almost every Welsh attack in the middle 40 minutes of the match. Some urgent remedial work on the defensive system is in order.
A Litany of Woe
To top it all off, Drico tore his hamstring (of course) , the poor bastard. It drops the curtain on a miserable season for him and lets the questions over his loss of acceleration and footwork fester. Saturday’s try-scorer, Shane Williams is also 29 so his affliction is no inevitability of ageing. It may be the case that his highly worn body has simply had too much but perhaps the stagnation is somewhat mental.
Elsewhere, our back row was ineffective and we have been inept at contesting lineout or ruck possession all championship. We should try an out-and-out 7, a groundhog. Someone like Keith Gleeson also offers an ability to link with the centres but age is against him. Shane Jennings is 26 and a ball winner on the deck. Wallace the incumbent is 31. Time to build for the future perhaps. In O’Driscoll’s absence I would try Luke Fitzgerald at outside centre, he isn’t really a “risk” and we all must know by now that Horgan does much better on the wing than in the centre.
Moving Forwards in an Upwards Direction
What is needed for Irish rugby to improve? A backs coach (remember that Genesis report thingie), a change of captain (let BO’D focus on his own game and give the squad a new leadership voice) and above all a fresh attitude – the perenially poe-faced O’Sullivan’s sense of persecution and embattled demeanour seems to be filtering through to the players, sapping any joy they might have in their game. They look miserable, the weight of the world on their shoulders.
The theme of this season’s rugby must be maddening inconsistency, the dash and zip of the Scotland game seemingly abandoned entirely a fortnight later. England have had a similarly all over the place season, from being South Africa’s 36-0 whipping boys to RWC finalists to wilting against the Welsh, struggling with the Italians, battering the French in Paris, now flubbing to a waterlogged flop against the heretofore winless Scots.
England v Ireland: To the winner… Mediocrity! To the losing coach… The Sword.
Next week, England will be mad as hell, at home, unlikely to feel any generosity to a nation that has beaten them every year since RWC 03 and facing an Irish team at a very low ebb in confidence and physicality. I very much fear that 2/5 will be our return from this year’s championship. It will be up to the IRFU appointments committee to make of that as they will.