By Phillip Coulter
AFTER ALL the optimism generated from last week’s effort, the manner of Saturday’s flogging is even harder to take. Watching Ireland on this tour has been an emotional rollercoaster. How can the same group of players offer up such different levels of performance over three test matches?
In the first test Ireland looked tired and out of their depth. Last week they took the fight to the All Blacks and produced a performance that made everyone proud. Last weekend they suffered their biggest ever defeat to New Zealand.
There’s no doubt New Zealand learnt from their close shave in Christchurch last week. The All Blacks took a hammering in the local media afterwards and used it as extra motivation as they set about dismantling Ireland from the start. They brought a different attitude into the game and as a result physically dominated the tourists.
Ireland on the other hand looked tired, bereft of ideas and completely shell shocked by the New Zealand onslaught.
They were passive from the beginning and the All Blacks didn’t need a second invitation. Clever and direct angles of running allowed New Zealand to get their offload game working to devastating effect. When Ireland failed to stop that, it was always going to be a long day.
At the breakdown it was more of the same. Steve Hansen’s decision to re-jig the back row paid off. Liam Messam was savage throughout, while Richie McCaw and Sam Cane ran rings out thought and out punched the Irish back row – pilfering ball and getting through a mountain of work. But it wasn’t just down to the Kiwi backrow -the slightest whiff of a turnover had black shirts launching themselves into rucks to secure possession.
Ireland lacked consistency of performance in New Zealand. Worryingly, that has been the case for quite a while. The pre-tour defeat to the Barbarians comes on the back of an indifferent world cup campaign and distinctly average Six Nations.
Declan Kidney has a very talented bunch of players at his disposal – look at the names on the Heineken Cup over the last five years and you’ll find clear evidence of that.
No one can question his coaching credentials, but could it be time that this Ireland side were exposed to a fresh way of thinking? Looking at all three tests in their entirety, there were some positives at the set-piece, with Ireland functioning correctly at the scrum and line out.
But there were also areas where they have been fallen short. Too often players got isolated at breakdown. In the first and third test New Zealand dominated the ruck- winning quick ball, forcing turnovers or slowing down Ireland’s ability to recycle the ball.
Paul Wallace made an interesting point in his post-match analysis suggesting that the IRFU should find a place in the coaching set up for Leinster coach, Joe Schmidt. I can definitely see a merit in that.
Firstly it would give Les Kiss the chance to shore up an Irish defence that has leaked over 120 points in three games of test match rugby. Just as importantly it would allow Schmidt the opportunity to work with some very talented players and hopefully give Ireland a more intelligent and cutting edge attack.
From a fans perspective the tour was a frustrating watch. The players showed tremendous effort but were ultimately outclassed, outthought and out muscled by the best team in the world.