Sport: Oval Digest – Dark Day Signals The End For Some
One Irish rugby hack loves to throw the clichéd old phrase ‘ebb and flow of psychic energy’ into his pieces. With Ireland unable to throw off the shackles of a predictably dogged Scotland team on Sunday, handing over momentum time after time, the phrase was never so apt.
In scrum, lineout, leadership and goalkicking Ireland fell down. The basics failed Kidney’s men on a freezing Murrayfield afternoon, and yet, they owned the ball for the first half.
The decision to start Paddy Jackson was a surprise to most amateur pundits, this one included, and despite his assured performance with ball in hand, it must be put down to a mistake on the management’s part. Jackson and his young Ulster mate Marshall took the ball to the line well, keeping Ireland attacking and moving away from the stale kicking game that many expected.
Goal kicking seems to be the main barometer of an Irish outhalf, however, and Jackson was poor in this area, though little confidence was shown in him too.
It’d be a foolish mistake to blame the young Ulster debutant for this defeat though. If this were a boxing match, Ireland would have demolished their opponent on points, and much of that was to do with the tempo from 10. Leadership from the likes of Heaslip was conspicuously absent, and though the Leinster 8 had another good game, carrying resolutely and making his tackles, there needs to be more to a great captain than just that. Questions will rightly be asked about whether his mild manner is a good fit for the job, though some of the criticism of the Naas man’s supposed ‘lifestyle’ goes well below the belt.
Failure to deliver a knockout blow before half time was a big momentum shift, with Keith Earls twice butchering try opportunities, getting a berating from a cranky O’Driscoll on the second occasion. Ireland’s scrum was also creaking, with Tom Court struggling to get to grips with his counterpart, while Rory Best was doing his best to take himself out of Lions contention with some wayward lineout throwing yet again.
A typically unsteady performance for a team that’s fast becoming renowned for inconsistency, Ireland, inexplicably, went in at halftime only three ahead.
In stark contrast to Heaslip, Jim Hamilton’s performance to lead his Scottish team from the front prompted the expected ‘Braveheart’ references. Hamilton imposed himself on the game unlike any Irish forward except perhaps O’Brien, and Scotland, buoyed by a crucial missed touch from Jackson, fired over penalty points.
On came the cavalry, including O’Gara and Reddan (replacing a below par Murray), though Ireland still struggled against the excellent home blanket defence.
With the tide turning, Scotland were almost apologetic to find themselves in a 4 point lead, and despite getting a late chance, a wayward pass from 10 led to a Marshall knock-on. Heaslip and his men looked shell-shocked, as Scotland celebrated like they’d won the World Cup.
The answer? Well there’s been much written with much more to come on that subject. Despite all his Irish media friends, Declan Kidney is finally feeling the heat, and will surely now not be re-instated come the end of the season. Change is needed and it’s taken this long for the management’s sometime baffling decisions, game plans and inability to instill consistent performances to see those calls.
It’s not all the coach’s fault though, and too many of Ireland’s big men failed to fire. Kearney, who so famously led a mini-revolt in Enfield at the beginning of Kidney’s reign, will fear for his Lions tour place, Best put in another mixed game, O’Mahoney was anonymous bar one big turnover and only O’Brien, Marshall and Ryan can really come out of this debacle with any credit.
As for Munster’s famous number 10? Ronan O’Gara again failed to make any meaningful contribution, and for the third time since November, made a huge match defining error while trying to conjure something that clearly wasn’t on. Kidney won’t be the only Corkman on the way out this summer it seems.
Onwards and upwards for Ireland to France in two weeks, with the wooden spoon looming large and a tough trip to Rome to come. The ‘psychic energy’ is firmly against them at the moment.