Paddy Logan examines where Ireland lost yesterday's match, and what lies ahead in the coming weeks for Kidney and co.:
Well that was a horrible game to watch. Ireland had the beating of England, no question, but made way too many simple mistakes. England were hardly flawless but did the simple things much better. Injuries to key players certainly didn’t help. Losing Zebo early was hugely disappointing and J10 hobbling off was a very worrying sight. Add to that the fact that new-dad BOD played most of the second half on one leg and we were always going to be in trouble. One good thing to come from all of this was that Keith Earls came on and proved beyond any reasonable doubt that he is a wing and not a centre. He was one of the bright sparks on a dark afternoon for Ireland.
Contrary to popular (and badly ill-informed) opinion running up to the match, our scrum had the upper hand with Healy dominating Cole in a manner that confirmed his status as leading candidate for the Lions No 1 shirt. Ross went alright in the first half, but in the second half scrummaged Marler off the pitch. Ireland’s lineout, with Ryan and O’Mahoney starring, was also far superior to the woeful English (taxi for Mr Youngs) and the maul went pretty well too.
So what went wrong? First off, England won the kicking contest at a canter. They were clearly targeting Zebo at the start, which seemed a little strange given his recent prowess under the high ball, and he handled it well enough. Ireland took a long time to test the England back 3, which was bizarre given the conditions.
Sexton going off cruelly exposed the weakness of O’Gara’s kicking from hand. Once peerless, he now lacks the length to boss a top class game. We’ve seen it repeatedly for Munster this season, yet still he gets the nod from Uncle Deccie. His first touch finder from a penalty was an awful strike and he was lucky to get away with it. England, with Farrell, Goode and Brown, got much more height and distance on their kicks such that Ireland more often than not, ultimately lost ground.
Then there were the knock-ons. Yes it was a bad day, but many of them were simply inexplicable. Heaslip dropped 2 clearance kicks under no pressure at all. To make matters worse for our new captain, he conceded the penalties that led to England’s first two scores. It really was a day to forget for the Naas man and one also wonders whether a Martin Johnson or Richie McCaw would have allowed the ref to be so soft on the opposition’s blatant time-wasting and transgression at the ruck.
Elsewhere in the backrow, O’Mahony and O’Brien had excellent games. O’Mahony was especially good at the lineout and has cemented his place in the team until Stevie Ferris returns. Donnacha Ryan had another good game and the front row was as good as ever, although Healy played most of the first half through a red mist and will be waiting nervously for the citing commissioner’s report tomorrow. (Yes it was bad, but it would be grossly unfair if he were banned after the Welsh, who did as much at almost every ruck, got away scot-free last week) At least we are well stocked for quality replacements on the left-hand side of the scrum.
It also seemed to me that Ireland were very indecisive, particularly during the first half. On numerous occasions Murray set off from the base of the ruck and either ended up getting tackled or giving a pass to a static, and sometimes surprised, forward. Otherwise Murray was very good, especially when kicking from the base of the ruck, and I am not at all sure whether the indecision was just his or the team’s as a whole.
England did the basics better but were far from impressive. Farrell further enhanced his reputation as a Wilkinson clone although he is yet to be as exciting in attack. When 36 went off towards the end of the third quarter, I had forgotten he was playing, such was his, and the rest of the English backs’, anonymity. That said, their defence was strong even if it was asked very few questions. I thought that their pack was second best by some distance, and was completely gobsmacked when Brian Moore awarded MOTM to Chris Robshaw, despite his being totally outplayed by the Tullow Tank, who was once excellent again.
So where do Ireland go from here? I’d love to see more youth in the team. O’Gara is clearly the wrong side of the hill and I’m finding it increasingly painful to watch him struggling when he was once so brilliant. I accept that none from Keatley, Madigan and Jackson has made an overwhelming case to be selected, but surely none of them would be as poor as ROG. Granted he kicked 2 penalties, but neither was that challenging and he did miss one that he should have nailed.
There was also an occasion towards the end of the match when D’Arcy was running out of defence and the English midfield parted like the Red Sea. 10 years ago he would have pinned his ears back, breezed through the gap and then had Irish support either side of him waiting for the try-scoring pass. Instead, he chose to pass 15 yards off his left hand to Kearney who was easily tackled.
Now that the Slam is off, we should start to bring the next generation through. I wouldn’t advocate wholesale change because that is never a smart plan – even if it has worked okay for Stuart Lancaster. Injuries and disciplinary proceedings may yet see J10, BOD, Church and Zebo miss the next game. The conservative approach would see them replaced by ROG, Earls, Court and Trimble.
I would start Jackson at 10 if Sexton is forced to miss the rest of the Six Nations. I know he hasn’t been tearing up trees of late, but he will look up and see Ruairidh Jackson who he knows to be rubbish and so he is less likely to have one of the days he’s had when facing the outstanding Sexton. I’d go with Cave at 13 if BOD cries off. All the other options play most of their rugby elsewhere. Earls is the one exception but he never looks comfortable there and I would play him on the wing where, as he showed yesterday, he looks most threatening. Playing Luke Marshall, who started at 13 for Ulster on Friday, is another option, as is McSharry, with D’Arcy moving to 13.
At loosehead, Kilcoyne should replace Healy if he gets suspended and, to give him his due, Deccie has already backed the more youthful and dynamic candidate. Court will come onto the bench, which will give Ireland an excellent weapon with which to dismantle the Scottish scrum towards the end of the game.
After last week’s outstanding start to the championship, this weekend’s fare plumbed the depths. The highlight was clearly Scotland’s demolition of Italy. The Jocks have some talented backs, none more so that Stuart Hogg who may well be edging past Bob in the race to understudy ½ p at full-back. But Italy were abject, (Scotland score 4 tries for goodness sake) and Orquera’s 1/10 in Steve James’s match ratings must be one of the most generous awards ever. Ireland will have to improve significantly if they are to beat Scotland at Murrayfield in 2 weeks time.
At Stade de France, it seemed that Les Bleus looked to out-do the Italians ineptitude and did a good job of it. Incredibly, Michalak was at least as poor as Orquera and must surely be cast aside by Phillipe Saint-Andre. Wales weren’t much better, but managed to be not quite as bad as France and sneak the win thanks to a well taken try by the otherwise ordinary George North.
Let’s hope for much better in round 3.
Ronan Murphy gives his two cents on the loss:
How 'bout that for a come down? There could scarcely be a bigger contrast between this weeks three games and what went before.
"Fine margins" is phrase we get to hear a lot of, especially in Test rugby. And that was certainly the case in Dublin. Ireland made more mistakes than England and lost out. The most disappointing aspect may be how widespread the mistakes were across the team; knock-ons by Heaslip and McCarthy, Cian Healy's losing his head twice (a citing will probably be on the way) and even BOD-himself spilled a ball in the Irish 22. Ireland turned the ball over to England 14 times and never managed to force England to do anything special.
And the mistakes were't limited to those on the pitch. Ireland kicked poorly against Wales last week but got away with it due to the big lead built in the first 40. The failure to address that issue over the following 8 days, in spite of the weather forecast, was a big oversight. Ireland's kick game was aimless at best and Alex Goode may not be the be most explosive fullback but he is a very good footballer and he was perfectly positioned to gratefully accept the ball on numerous occasions.
Smarter people than I have questioned Ireland's bench this Six Nations, especially the half backs. O'Gara was supposed to be present as a steadying influence but with Sexton hobbling off so early, but that's not really how things bore out. We may not have gone on to win the game with Jackson, Madigan or Keatley coming off the bench but the long term value would have been much greater especially with respect to O'Gara's inability to influence the game. Similarly, Eoin Reddan hasn't been in his best form this season and the impact of Paul Marshall has been much greater at H-Cup level. The diminutive Ulsterman has his limitations but his pace against tiring legs could be utilized by Ireland.
Full credit to England for holding their nerve and their skills better in the conditions. Their humility had me on edge before the game but, personified by Chris Robshaw, they have morphed into a humble, hard working unit. They may not win the Grand Slam but they are the last men standing.
The championship may not be entirely gone but, after a positive opening, Ireland's chances and Kidney's reign are teetering.