I have come to a realisation as we say good bye to the 6 Nations championship of 2017. That realisation is, I cannot emotionally handle being an Ireland rugby supporter.
It feels better to have said that out loud.
Going into the final match against England, there was no title at steak. There was only pride. The points spread ranged from 3 all the way up to certain pundits trolling on twitter saying there was 7 tries in between the teams. The nation had begun to slowly turn their back on the coach, demanding changes and thinking that they knew more about coaching than a multiple tournament winning King Joe.
I was in a taxi headed towards the designated meeting point for the top notch pundits of Ireland, and I was listening to the end of the Wales v France match. It was a hilarious calamity involving our favourite unfavourite referee Wayne Barnes. He was incapable of giving a penalty try after multiple infractions from the Welsh that the match went longer than the last FA cup final. France winning took some more pressure off Ireland. The 4th seeding for the world cup was cemented with a Welsh defeat.
Immediately I thought this was a positive for Ireland. My coach always said, be wary of the fighter with nothing to lose, and Ireland went in with nothing to lose. Upon arriving at the venue the news that Jamie Heaslip was out with an injury from the warm up meant that O’Mahony started. This was a call I was hoping for, but for Sean O’Brien and not iron man. But needs must. It was a big day for POM along with Kieran Marmion. The player who was kept on the side-lines the previous week while Murray had no feeling in his left arm.
The team started like they hadn’t been fed in a month. They tore into the English with such ferocity that it made the team chasing the world record look like an under 10’s side. It was amazing to see, this was what we wanted from minute 1 of the competition. The far bigger England team where sent back time and time again. They tried gamely to get back into the game early, but they just couldn’t. Their game plan was easily read; aim at J10, aim at KM9 and that would shut down the entire team. This is not a bad game plan, but they underestimated both players. J10 was everywhere, it looked like there where 6 people wearing the 10 jersey at some points. It got to the stage where he was hitting rucks needlessly and you could see the English back row where lining him up for an over the top clean out. When this didn’t work, some late hits came in. It was targeting, fair targeting for the most part. But it got to the point where captain Best had to have a word with the referee, so some of it was over the line.
The aggression was there and it was backed up with technique and belief against a much larger, albeit one dimensional English side.
It took some time, but J10 put Ireland 3 up with a penalty as a result of pressure. Quickly replied to by Farrell at 18 minutes. The addition of POM meant that Ireland had more options in the lineout which helped with Captain Best and his darts. He didn’t miss one all day, Ireland didn’t lose one all day and there were a few steals too. The lineout set up the only try of the game. The baby faced assassin Iain Henderson scored after a perfectly executed move. It was a throw to the middle won by O’Mahony and that Irish maul trucked over for the try. A strong confident start.
Ireland then began the strangulation rugby. England where contained, looked amateur and Ireland played some creative rugby. Was this because there was nothing at steak or was it because of new orders mixed with new personnel? England where delighted to be at half time only 7 points behind and for the duration of the game they never looked like scoring a try. The teams could still be playing today and England would be depending on the Adidas Predators (other boots are available) of Owen Farrell to win them the game. Ireland where impotent against Wales, this week, England where downright droopy!
The Irish scrum was concrete all day and gave a massive platform for the backs. Ringrose had a huge game and was able to make breaks and tackles that he had no right to make.
Again, England where holding on. They had nothing to offer past being big. We expected a patch where England would come back; they did nothing past a couple of turnovers in the second half. They elected to take the points over trusting their set piece which was a sure sign that they were not up for the scrap on this day.
Ireland played like a team that are world beaters, England played like a team scared of history.
The frustration is that this is not a regular thing from Ireland. This was a performance that no team in the world would want to face, if this performance was up against the All Blacks, I dare say that there would be new world champions. To a man the team played to near peak performance. It really was a fantastic way to finish the tournament……..
Was it a successful tournament? Did we get what we deserve? Well in sport you usually get what you deserve. Based on 40 minutes against Scotland and 80 minutes against Wales Ireland got what they deserved. It is all about what happens next. It is all about the newly capped players (20+ in total since Joe took over) taking forward steps in the big jersey to challenge for the big competitions.
A lot of people are saying it was a failure, they are wrong. A lot of people say that Heaslip is finished, they are also wrong.
What I say is that there is no longer such a thing as a first team for Ireland. There will be days where a certain selection is warranted based on the competition (and of course fitness). So when someone is dropped, they are not dropped. This will bring confidence to the entire panel, everyone will be in with a shout of making the match day squad and this will be hugely beneficial going forward into the world cup and 6 Nations campaigns where injuries could take their toll.
The 6 Nations 2017 is over, and Ireland got what they deserved. But more importantly, no one above them in the world rankings wants to play them.
As usual @nkeegan on twitter and @kdubdd on instagram