Fickle Irish fans need reality check

12 February 2017

Supporters have become very quick to find fault with the Irish team.

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Parent-teacher day for the O’Garas in Paris and Rua’s attention span is short, says muinteoir. Rua’s eight. Teacher says she knows it’s time for the schoolyard cos Rua perks up. And then he’s out the gap, kicking football. Not rugby. Not yet.
I hope rugby has a place for him in the future though. It’s a game I’ll encourage my sons to play and one I hope continues to reward intuition and intelligence. The Six Nations is alive and kicking, throbbing even. How’s the bigger picture looking?

Over the past decade, where have rugby’s progress areas been? Primarily inpreparation: Players have become fitter, faster, and stronger. Everyone is getting stronger, there are uniform gains in power in every area of the field, so the enhancements are not skewed.

That’s the power game. I’m not sure the skill levels have improved over the last 10 or 15 years. Rugby must always reward the finesse player who sees things quicker, who can still get the better of the opponent who has a massive size and strength advantage.

Football will give that to Rua and his brothers. However, in the 15-person game, there may be only room for one or two of those players going forward. That’s the reality of the game.

As a general rule, rugby teams will opt for a big 12 to get over the gainline. That is dictated to a great extent by the outlook of the coach, his philosophy, his bravery. How he wants to play the game, what value he puts on a passing game. From what I see, pragmatism demands results and the need for a direct approach at all costs.

The inside centre who gives a team finesse, intelligence, and power must remain a valued resource. Ireland have rich, rich potential going forward with Ringrose and Henshaw (who have some acts to follow in O’Driscoll and D’Arcy).

Wales’s Jonathan Davies, a try-scorer in Rome on Sunday, is the prototype centre for Six Nations rugby. He is quick, smart, and agile but has a really strong lower body, and seriously powerful legs.

A key element of a team’s arsenal is the kicking game, which can give any team a serious competitive advantage if it’s something that is worked on assiduously. Is it now? Before, in any team, you had two really good kickers and the other backs had to be able to hold their own putting boot to ball. The technique and skill of kicking is something that interests me for obvious reasons, but I am not sure it’s as much of a priority now. It’s a crying shame that the ‘spiral’ kick seems to be a relic of the modern game. Why? Because it’s more difficult? I would always contend while it’s more difficult to master, the spiral kick travels further, faster, and, for me, more accurately than the end-over-end kick. It’s also a better weapon in terms of territory, giving the opposing wing and full back less time to react to it. And yet 90% of people will say the end-over-end kicking technique is more accurate, more reliable, and travels at the same speed. I would contest that all day.

The end-over-end can’t go too far awry, and a spiral can go horribly wrong. But in a game of territory and field position, it’s a huge source of benefit that isn’t utilised enough in the international game. The best bit of kicking last Saturday in the Six Nations was a corner-finder from Scotland’s Duncan Weir, the replacement 10. A kick that pinned a desperate Ireland back into the corner and was indefensible for Simon Zebo. It bounced half a metre from touch. How much of the post-game narrative did it command?

The Murrayfield loss has been well dissected at this stage. It’s taken a bit of wind out of Ireland’s sails but the sound of a bandwagon crashing is pathetic.

Few things amuse me as much as fickle Irish rugby supporters. There’s been fingers pointed at Heaslip, at Murray and how he’s ‘lost his form’. Stop. Just stop talking like that. We’ve become very quick to find fault in Ireland. The team have been incred-ibly consistent for a period of time and that’s why people are surprised more than anything else at the reversal and the simplicity of the errors in the first half that gave them a mountain to climb.

Afterwards Rory Best said something interesting. He used the word ‘character’ in describing Ireland’s second-half resurrection.

It made me wonder did the players actually expect to reclaim the lead in the second half or were Ireland on a pride-salvaging exercise? It seemed that when they surged into a 22-21 lead, there was a collective ‘see how we did that?’ It appeared that way when you observed the subsequent lapses in concentration, the bizarre decisions from a few players who seldom make such errors of judgment.

Ireland wouldn’t be happy, but the big positive is that no team looks like striding out in front. Ireland has form behind the scrum. Rob Kearney did very well and Keith Earls was our most dangerous back until a rib problem forced his premature withdrawal.

Paddy Jackson was a terrier in the second half — he upped the ante and brought the best out of his team.

A clinical display in Rome should see Ireland finish the weekend with six points. Though it’s a month away, the visit to Cardiff already looks crucial. For this weekend, the topic du jour is: Will Scotland back up last weekend in Paris against France?

The size of the French makes them a difficult proposition for any team, any time, irrespective of how ill-disciplined they are. I am intrigued to see Scotland’s frame of mind. Did they throw all their focus into preparing for Ireland and empty everything into that? They have a good win under their belts now and visit France with zero pressure and growing expectation. In Paris, the media is already turning up the heat on Guy Noves and the players. Sunday is already a must-win for them. And the French don’t like that.

Let’s see where Ireland are Monday. The future of the game can wait a while.


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