After tootling along on the road to glory, with a few miss-fires along the way, the Ireland engine gave up the ghost yesterday with a cough and a splutter as an MOT ready France zoomed past without needing to engage top gear!
That Ireland managed to close the gap at the end had more to do with France putting it in neutral and coasting for the line than any of the highly tuned Irish components actually firing in unison.
The question for the Ireland management team is, “Will a simple re-tune correct the problem or do some of the components need replaced?”
Unfortunately, for Ireland, they have left any rebuild, in preparation for the World Cup, too late, preferring, in the past, to patch it up and push it out time and again, so it looks as though a bit of tuning of the available parts is the only realistic option.
Ireland’s issue is that some of their more exciting players can also be a bit of a liability. Outside of O’Driscoll, O’Connell, Heaslip, O’Brien and O’Gara ( and possibly Ferris) and I’ll maybe include Ross in that lot, the rest of the team cannot be relied upon to turn in a performance week after week. If 80% of the squad could be relied on to turn up at optimum performance then Ireland might do something but at the mo we’re only hitting 50%.
In the front row Ross has been the only consistent performer, turns up, does his job and goes home. Best was poor last week but one of the better performer’s yesterday, Flannery came on all bull and bustle but woefully took time out to return to a prone French player and appeared to give him a bit of a stamping which was worrying! Healy could be fantastic but is still more interested in Healy with his posturing try as he looked to flip Parra instead of easily driving under him. It wouldn’t surprise me if he injured his shoulder in the act judging by the number of times he was down throughout the game. Court had one of his better games when he came on but still got stood up a couple of times in the scrum despite having the ability to put his opponent under pressure when he put his mind to it.
O’Connor will always give 100%, though sadly it’s only 80% of what he gave two years ago but it’s still puts him ahead of the rest. O’Callaghan is infuriating and has yet to raise his game to the required level but there isn’t enough competition to force him to do so. Didn’t see enough of McCarthy to judge.
Our back row riches are getting thin. David Wallace is a class performer, however, he was as poor last November as he was resurgent in the Six Nations. Time is catching up, how long can he continue to put his body on the line? His non-appearance yesterday must be worrying. O’Brien, big and powerful with ball in hand, has done what he needs to do but Jennings was too far off the pace. Heaslip continues to show he’s the real deal despite being over-anxious to keep the ball live, when it just all needed to be calmed down, but at least he’s consistent in this. Ferris showed enough in his cameo to suggest he’s back and he does get more involved in general play than O’Brien but his injury record must still be a concern.
At half back O’Gara is in a class of his own, the model of consistency, but the rest are so flaky that it’s a serious concern. Sexton is the most naturally gifted and unsurpassed when on form but he needs to find it soon. However, the erratic service from scrum half has added to Sexton’s woes and Ireland haven’t helped themselves, chopping and changing between Reddan , O’Leary, Stringer, Boss and now Murphy (Edit: Ops – should be Murray of course) and forcing them all to adapt their style. Should have stuck with two at most and adapted their game round them.
O’Driscoll is still head and shoulders above the rest, and we can forgive yesterdays defensive mistake, but D’Arcy isn’t the man on form beside him and his sideways crabbing is stifling more attacking opportunities than any defence!
Trimble has nearly slipped into my list of consistency but I have this nagging feeling that, once Bowe returns, Ireland’s most impressive performer throughout the warm up games isn’t going to make the starting XV, shattering Trimble’s confidence in the process. Which leads us to Earls, a naturally gifted player that is so low in confidence that you have to wonder if he should be on the plane? I’m glad to hear that Felix Jones injury may not be as bad as fist feared but I still struggle to see what others have seen in him this series. 100% keen, no doubt, but insecure below the high ball and out of position so often that it worries me more than his willingness to chase loss causes comforts me! Fitzgerald however may be the man that showed Ireland the way forward as they continue their preparations. Anonymous last week, he near stole the show yesterday with his straightforward hard and fast running into space with his refreshingly simple approach.
Kidney’s opposite number Marc Lièvremont has received a fair bit of stick over the last few years as he chopped and changed his team in the build up to the World Cup. However, over the last two games, he’s rolled out two sides who looked infinitely more comfortable in their team roles than many of their Irish counterparts.
Ireland have left it too late for rebuilding. They must now concentrate on a simple game and tuning the component parts to perform to the best of their ability. They have five games to sort it out before an expected Quarter Final against South Africa. We’ll find out on Monday who they have chosen to work with!