Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A Little More Action Please

One by one they filed in, each with the same bowed head, hand-wringing, but taking it like a man. Eddie, Brian O'Driscoll, Gordon D'Arcy; Marcus Horan turned up on RTE Radio 1, Shane Horgan took the notion of collective responsibility seriously on Newstalk. No doubt Paul O'Connell and David Wallace will minutely document the pain of it all in their Sunday newspaper columns.

The flipside of the ubiquity of this Irish rugby team - how did they fit any training in around all those advertising shoots? - is the necessity for accountability. And, fair play, they haven't gone to ground, you know. Horgan and Horan talked about yesterday's video analysis session, presented, one presumes, by Wes Craven. Guys fronted up, in the parlance of the sport; hands were raised in admission of culpability.

Which is all well and good. It's certainly better to hear than the line of being top of the group with a bonus point to boot. That one was floated by some, and sank carrying all crew of the S.S. Optimism to their graves.

While we're glad of their honesty, we don't need the articulacy of our rugby players to spell out the grim nature of Sunday's performance. Watching the game again on the Setanta repeat yesterday, commentator Mark Robson was reduced to reciting, like a Rabbi chanting the script of the Torah, the list of Namibia's previous results, stunned by the incongruity of what was in front of him.

"They lost in qualifying to Tunisia and Kenya...Georgia and Romania beat them in the Nations Cup....they only defeated Uganda by a point in June...Australia of course put 142 points on the scoreboard four years ago....they lost 32-20 to the South African Students, then South Africa beat them 105-13...."

Nowhere in that lot was there the remotest context for what happened on Sunday night, against a team for whom winning the competition was considered within the realm of reason.

The poverty of the Irish display was such that it cannot be simply ascribed to the seemingly random misfortune of individual errors. This wasn't a bad day at the office. This was more like turning up for work to find the office had been demolished by a bomb.

Very obviously, this team have not been properly prepared for the start of the World Cup. The idea that the Irish team that ran out of puff against Namibia could, had the draw placed them there instead, have matched France or Argentina in their opening game is laughable.

But there's the rub. Ireland's World Cup did not really start last Sunday. Sure, the points difference escape tunnel has now been blocked off. But, if the preparation of an international rugby side is as scientific as I think it is, one imagines that Stade de France a week on Friday is intended to be nearer the top of the graph the Stade Chaban Delmas two days ago.

It's a straw, and I'm clutching at it.

Not that there weren't abysmal things about Sunday that were nothing to do with conditioning and ring-rustiness. The gameplan, that familiar O'Sullivanism, for example. Why did we attempt to play this match as if we had just stepped off the pitch in Rome last March? Why not simply kick for territory and keep the Namibians pinned back, allowing ourselves to feel our way into some sort of fluency, rather than simply assuming it with through looking for midfield gaps that hadn't yet appeared?

The breakdown was disastrous, Ireland recycling ball with the urgency of a hen laying an egg (apologies to all hens if the egg laying process is, in fact, carried out in an urgent manner. I always imagine it to be a serene and sedate process. If not, you should complain more. Like female humans).

But on the other hand, Namibia killed so much ball illegally that referee Joel Jutge's failure to issue a yellow card was the greatest act of charity towards an African nation since Bob Geldof and the black babies.

They're smart men, our rugby boys; they speak well and they're no fools. They know more than you or I about what went wrong on Sunday, and have done enough in recent years to warrant a bit of faith.

But there's only so much talking you can do.

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5 Comments:

Blogger lar said...

Tom,

I've two theories on our recent performances:


Theory 1: there's a major source of disharmony from within the Irish camp. Based on what, I don't know.

The flag is an non-issue, in my view, as is the lack of an anthem.

Newspaper columns and sponsorship deals are also a minor distraction.

Theory 2: we're playing dope-on-a-rope with the whole world.

The tactics: Don't do any line-out moves, don't attack the opposition line-out and don't run any backline moves and drop the ball as often as you can BUT most of all don't get into collision areas where there's risk of injury.

This certainly looked to be what was happening in our last 5 games including Namibia.

A highly implausible theory? Yes, absolutely, but it's better than accepting how much we've fallen since humbling England in Croke Park all those months ago

12:52 p.m.  
Blogger Tom the Tim said...

Tom,

As an uninformed, casual rugby spectator, I have no insight as to the tactical and other factors that influence the outcome of a match.

However, as an avid follower of the Beautiful Game, I can't help but notice the similarities in this competition and the Qualifying Rounds of the Champions League.

Every team involved in these rounds dread the prospect of being paired with a club from Eastern Europe, who are well established into their playing season.

Playing against a Spanish or Italian team in late July is a different prospect than meeting them in October.

Similarly, I noticed that the "big" teams who performed better against their lower rated opponents, were those from the Southern hemisphere, where the playing season is well established.


Mentally, the players from England, Scotland, Ireland and France are still on the beach or on the cricket pitches.

Don't despair ,yet. It's always a good thing to have your bad game behind you, especially if you don't lose.

Failing that, cling on to "lar's" post at 12.52.

1:14 p.m.  
Blogger Tom the Tim said...

*Failing that, cling on to "lar's" post at 12.52.

Option 2

1:15 p.m.  
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