So here we are. The first round of the 6 Nations has been and gone. To call it a rollercoaster of emotion would be a severe understatement. Ireland came into this tournament with defeats of southern hemisphere teams in the back pocket, some gutsy determined performances and a confidence seldom seen in a green jersey.
So what happened? Well I made the trek to the lucky pub with the Da and the rest of the trusted fellowship of the oval ball. We were confident but nowhere near cocky. My prediction was Ireland by 3 points. That figure was agreed on around the table. We expected a tough Scotland team who are very well coached and have a provincial team (Glasgow) performing quite well. Generally the agreement was that Ireland just had too much in each position for Scotland. If you could choose any of the 80 odd players for 1 team, there wouldn’t be more than 3 Scotland players on match day.
Never mind the bus arrival time. That is not a real excuse. These are professionals; they usually start their prep at breakfast on the morning of the game.
So what happened? Why where Ireland defending like Swiss cheese? Why was a team with a very strong defence and set piece torn apart like that swimmer in the beginning of jaws.
For me, it comes down to something very simple. There will be others who will speak in terms of technique, game plans and other fantastic sporting jargon. But for me, we just where not violent enough in the first half. We can talk about skill, precision and tactics in rugby, all of which are hugely important, but rugby is a game of semi controlled violence. If you show up to a fight, not interested in the fight or assuming you will steam roll your opponent, then you will lose every time. It was worrying to see, especially after the pre-game talk was so right. Much like Leinster when they face Connacht in the league final, Ireland sat back and asked Scotland to run at them. They were more passive than a hippy at Woodstock and that is just not the way to play a violent sport. Tyson wasn’t Tyson because he stayed on the outside and worked behind a jab; he was Tyson because he welcomed the violence and mixed it with his skill to become the machine he was. Ireland just didn’t do that for 40 minutes.
There where strange things happening too. Ireland defended like a pyramid. Meaning the line did not move as one, it was slightly behind time; Ringrose was shooting like it was 2009 at various points. Scotland saw this and after 2 breakdowns they threw the ball out wide and had overlaps every time. The positive thing is that this was sorted at half time and didn’t happen in the second half. A lot of improvements were made in the second half to the point where Ireland had the lead with the last quarter of the game to go.
Going in, Scotland had to play their best to win. They had some very cheeky line out calls which where fantastic to see. But they played very well. Ireland played well below par and paid the price for it. Especially in the first 40.
Safe to say, this will not happen again. Points are needed to be proven and to be on the scoreboard against the Italians. Who played well against Wales but don’t have a full game in them. The opening weekend was a shock for Ireland, but the tournament is far from over with no team looking beyond a loss.
Team selection for next week will be tricky. Henderson and Dillane looked short on match fitness, neither played badly but where not their usual explosive selves. So does Joe bring back Ryan? Will O’Mahony be fit enough? Will Sexton be fit enough? Will Madigan get a phone call?
For the first time in quite a while, there are a lot of questions going into round 2. I am looking forward to seeing if King Joe has the answers.
As usual @nkeegan is the place for further discussion.