Ireland crashed out of the World Cup in Cardiff where a injuries, inferior skill-set and a mixed use of the bench saw them weakened
By Whiff of Cordite
And so it comes to pass – Ireland go out at a World Cup quarter final. Nothing to see here? Move on. Well maybe, but this time, more analysis is required, after all expectations were high – for the consecutive Six Nations champions, a semi-final was considered the par score, and a(nother) last eight exit feels crushing. So what did we learn?
Ireland just don’t have the skills
The most shocking facet of all, in the game between the best team in the Northern Hemisphere in 2014 and 2015 and the fourth best in the Southern Hemisphere from 2012 to 2014, was the sheer disparity in skill levels. Argentina seemed to be able to pass accurately and with distance off both sides, identifying space and running into it, executing mismatches with ease and looking threatening in a way none of the Northern Hemisphere teams do. It was a rude awakening for the men in green.
Ireland don’t have the depth
Joe Schmidt has spent much of his reign building depth across the field by trusting backups in key games, Jordi Murphy against England in 2015 and Ian Madigan against France in 2014 spring to mind. However, the loss of Paul O’Connell, Peter O’Mahony, Sean O’Brien, Johnny Sexton and Jared Payne was too much – in on-pitch leadership terms as much as pure ability. Having the finishers starting meant we ran out of steam on the hour.
Use of the bench
In the first half, it felt like the player missed most by Ireland was Peter O’Mahony – Argentina owned the breakdown and Ireland were passive nearly everywhere. Of the players on the bench, Donnacha Ryan was the most like for like – a dose of Munster dog for the fight, and we were hoping to see him come in for Murphy, either into the row to unleash the Llama, or straight into blindside. But by the time he came in, the game was lost. Only Nathan White and Jack McGrath had the opportunity to make an impact from the bench – it was curiously timid from Schmidt.
Devaluation of the French performance
At the time, the performance in beating France by 15 points was hailed as one of Ireland’s best ever. The way France lost on Saturday night should really have set off alarm bells – they weren’t noticeably worse than against Ireland, but got exposed far more often and far more clinically. In retrospect, this was because France and Ireland are far below the level of New Zealand and Argentina – beating France in 2015, is nothing like beating the perpetual semi-finalists of previous World Cups.
Ireland went into this tournament as the best prepared Irish team ever sent to a tournament, the best supported outside of the hosts, with a settled and experienced side festooned with Lions and with a fantastic coach. “If not now, when?” we asked as we predicted a best RWC ever. And now the question we’ll need to address to ourselves with a bit more sobriety in the months and years ahead is “Where did it go wrong?”