Monday, November 21, 2005

Easy Rides, Not Raging Bulls the Problem for Ireland

TSA GUEST OPINION- Paul Dunne on how the lack of competition within the Irish rugby squad is undermining the national team's chances of competing with the top nations

In August, as the season was beginning, at least 13 of the 15 that started against New Zealand in a green jersey knew that all they had to do was just be alive and they would be picked.

What that does to your performance levels is now obvious. It's harder to get put out of the Irish squad than it is to get into it. That's the wrong way around.

Gordon D'Arcy has not played that well for nearly a year, but will always be picked. Stringer and O'Gara quite simply have no competition. Malcolm O'Kelly, great guy and player as he is, is now not up to it anymore. People are still complaining about leaving Anthony Foley (a near 35 year old warhorse) out of the squad.

Shane Byrne is 34. His front row partner John Hayes has amassed caps despite long being dominated by every opponent at international level.

You can't develop the kind of tenacity in players to hang onto their international jerseys that is now necessary to get wins at the very top level if you run what amounts to a highly paid 'holiday camp' for a close knit bunch of regulars. It's like having regulars in a pub, everything is so familiar that contempt is inevitable. Witness the early warning signs of this, in the relationship between the Irish team and the media, evidenced in the Irish Sunday papers.

To give some perspective witness the greatest machine in modern rugby, Jonny Wilkinson, who raised the bar at out half but has since been passed out by Charlie Hodgson. Wilkinson is fit and playing for Newcastle but not considered for international duty as he is not yet ready in terms of fitness and form. Hodgson has been forced to work really hard to maintain his spot, and he has done.

Now, imagine a similar situation in Ireland. O'Driscoll will go straight back into the side when his shoulder is fixed, he won't do any decent warm up games, he won't play Celtic league week in week out for Leinster. Nobody but nobody will question that. He knows his worth and feels no pressure.D'Arcy despite his injuries has been recalled every time, no questions asked. Not even Daniel Carter enjoys that level of security within an international set-up.

The Ireland set up is great if you are a part of it. Loads of money for not a lot of work, but our results will continue to reflect our insular and narrow minded focus.

One final note. Eddie O'Sullivan has had four years working with the same players. He enjoys unrivalled access to his players year round. No other international coach has this privilege. Yet the ball against Australia never went from 9 to 15 once without a forward pass or drop.

Can it be fixed? Yes it can, but it requires a value being put back on the Irish jersey. The performances we have witnessed in the last two games to me simply suggest that the players expect to get picked, can deliver a sub-par performace and chalk it up to a bad day at the office, get the coach back to citywest and forget about it.

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