What a difference a week makes!
The end of this year’s 6 Nations is in sight.
It has been a tournament of 7 halves so far, with one game against a tough Italian team to finish next week.
In the run up to the France match in Lansdowne on Saturday we all thought that the French would win. There where rugby pundits who did their typical 50/50 calls, saying Ireland could win but France might win. Listen and read for this next time. For me, I thought if we could be close in the early part of the game the French mentality would break. They are notoriously fragile in every sport. I was only half right. We where bossing the game in the first half. A lot of players stepped up, the captain was the captain and Brian O’Driscoll showed that he is just not a human being. More on him later…
Firstly Conor Murray was fantastic. He became a man in this game. The kicking was pin point, he tackled players who are far bigger than him, he was inventive and ran the show for us like a veteran. It was great to see. There have been questions about him being too slow with his delivery, but he showed all the tricks on Saturday. There has been talk about the bad decision of taking him off; I think it was the right call. He had put in a monster shift for 62 minutes and it was time to change it up a little bit. Hopefully this is the start of a more consistent Murray in green. He also protected (the magic word in the papers this week) Paddy Jackson which allowed him to play with a bit more freedom and time.
Jackson had a very positive strong game too. He sank a couple of long range penalties and was quick in the pass and had a moment of ballet toes in our own try area in the second half. This showed that he has the confidence back and is relaxing into the green jersey. He has had a baptism of fire this season. Another positive.
After Scotland we were worried about our line out. It didn’t fire against a bad Scottish side. Against France, a far better team, the lineout was probably our strongest set piece. Rory best was able to pick the target and execute every time. He was back to his best with every facet of the game firing hard. France where never close to stealing a line out from us. Best, along with the front row, tried really hard in the scrum, but we were not getting the hit right. It is difficult for the 18 stone 6 foot 2 Mike Ross to scrummage against 5 foot 10 17 stone Nicolas Mas. The height difference meant that Mas was always getting underneath the bigger man, forcing him up and costing us a penalty.
The big thing is that we appeared to have learnt from the England match. That was a horrible game to watch, the management team was pilloried for the game plan. They appear to have read the conditions far better this time around. The instruction where clear and concise. The team where confident in what they were meant to be doing, and the performance improved. Another positive.
There are a lot of positives coming out of this match isn’t there?
Yes, it is a big pity we did not win. It was not through lack of effort or a bad game plan. We just didn’t have enough quality on the bench. When the French have that wrecking machine known as basteroud ready to be unleashed at any time, it makes it very difficult to compete when we have a thin bench. Trying not to knock some of the lads that were ready to come on and put their bodies on the line for the jersey, it is just that they are not experience enough and in some cases, not good enough yet.
We cannot deny the effort on the pitch; they were visibly battered at the final whistle. Hopefully they got a big lie in and a few breakfast rolls as a reward for playing that hard.
Now on to the big man. Brian O’ (f’n) Driscoll. What can we say? Every time he is on the pitch it is a special thing. He carries far too much on his shoulders. Don’t get me wrong! I am glad he does. He sets a great example for the team. Not to mention every kid playing the game.
It s getting to the stage that he needs to be protected from himself. Hooky said it after the match; he was right, if it was up to Brian he would play with 1 leg and no eyes and STILL be a great player. He has a family to bring up and take care of; he has a beautiful wife (howaya Amy ;)) to spend time with and he has Nando’s to eat. I think we have to stop being selfish and want him in green, he has to think about quality of life after rugby at this stage. He was tackling men who outweigh him by stones (instead of lbs) and it must be taking a toll on his body. The impact on his cranium over the years has been immense, he is concuss after Saturday. The trauma to his brain is something that needs to be managed without the prejudice of wanting him to lead the team on to the pitch. I assume we are putting on a parade for him when the time comes to walk away from the green jersey?
Finally, and surprisingly, it is time to talk about Declan Kidney. As any regular readers know, I am not his best friend. But let’s look at it so far. We started with a dynamite first half, which has probably cost us a win against England. The game plan against Wales was on target. The team executed and played better than any time in that first half. They defended like demons in the second, only a slight lapse in concentration and discipline took the sheen off a really good performance. Then there was England, which I think was a very bad call in selection and game plan. If you look at that as a brain fart then we can move on to Scotland. After rewatching the game, the team played well, the plan worked. Every stat points at Ireland. The only problem was we could not finish. It was hard to watch. For me, there might have been something in having a finisher on the bench to try and change things up towards the end. I would not put the Scottish game against either the team or the coach. Then we come to last weekend. Again, the coach instilled the correct plan, the team executed. The lads looked confident in what they were doing, it looked like they agreed and believed in the plan and it showed on the pitch. We just did not have the bench or the pool of players to win the game. If someone offered us 13 all against France after the first game, we would have eaten their hand for it.
So should kidney be offered a new deal? I think he is turning his case around. Ireland appears to be learning their lessons. It has taken a bit longer to change personnel than we would have liked, but the good thing is that it is happening. If Conor O’Shea was interested I would say a new manager is a must. But without O’Shea in the running, who would you pick to take over who would be able to move the team forward? There are not many.
As usual, feel free to comment/debate/discuss/abuse me on twitter @nkeegan.
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Until next week…..