So Mondays after any kind of bad defeat is always tough. No matter if it’s us playing or supporting, both bite hard. This one bites a bit harder than most.
With the defeat against New Zealand it has closed the book on the Joe Schmidt era, an era that has brought more success than any before him, 3 6 Nations, 1 grand slam and a triple crown in 6 years. Going from a team to a squad and bringing constancy to the green jersey that wasn’t there before. 75%+ winning ration in his 6 years.
So that all has to be said up front.
Now we get to the world cup. We have already talked about the last 6 Nations campaign, so let’s look at the RWC. Let’s specifically look at the quarter finals. We knew going into the competition that it would be either New Zealand or South Africa. We knew it would not be easy and to win the competition or even break the quarter final hoo-doo it would take a monumental effort. Losing to Japan (while nothing to be embarrassed about) put Ireland in the All Blacks cross hairs. Not the Ireland of 2018, but the Ireland of 2019. That is massively different.
Let’s look at how the game went:
NZ ran 249 more meters at 488, had 50% possession for 56% territory, made 132 of 145 tackles (only missing 1 in the first half), Ireland made 115 of 147, NZ gave away 13 penalties to Irelands 6, Ireland had 100% success in the line out and scrum, conceded 18 turnovers (up from last week), offloaded 3 times (to NZ 18), beat 13 defenders (to NZ 32) and finally had 2 clean breaks to NZ 13.
It really is grim reading.
The All Blacks arrived to play their top game, like a team used to the big occasions they were confident that they could strangle any opposition. Not just Ireland. Ireland came in completely unsure of themselves and whether the semifinal was in their grasp. Much like Munster first and then Leinster having to endure heartbreak after heartbreak before breaking through to the European upper echelon, Ireland now sit at the table of heartbreak yet again. On the day it wasn’t close, the team didn’t fire and where unable to handle the rampaging All Blacks.
Now that isn’t as harsh a criticism as some would like. Some would want the team ripped apart and vilified much like football supporters do, but I don’t really see the point in that. The reaction of football supporters during bad times is directly correlated to the dishonest nature of the game. Rugby is (for the most part) an honest game, there is no hiding on the pitch there is nowhere to run except forward. That, foe me, is the beauty of the game. Football allows players to hide / cheat, rugby endeavors not to do that. So the team didn’t hide the team did perform and haven’t performed this year. That is the difference and that is why the reaction should reflect that. Pundits like O’Connor / McKenna et al are reacting like football pundits. Completely over the top and using the rules of football in a game where it isn’t valid.
As an aside, I will be chatting to Ewan on The Couch Pundit podcast soon, so keep an eye out for that.
The wheels just fell off. There will be theories, such as Ireland being found out. This is not the entire case. Ireland never employed brand new plays etc. to out think opponents, Ireland always executed far better than expected. The old Tyson analogy works here. Everyone knew he was going to throw right hook to the body followed by the right uppercut from the angle, he hit it every time because he picked when to throw it and it confused opponents. Ireland did that.
So why do teams fail to execute, pressure, expectation, adverse weather or better teams? Well it can be all of those or none of those. I think the coaching staff planned for players to be in form, but somewhere not. I think they planned for a better 6 Nations, we didn’t get it. I think they planned for a peaking of abilities coming into RWC and Ireland where far off that.
Not a time for emotional responses, players never went to underperform. Coaches never go into competition wanting to fail. The amount of sh1t that has to be eaten post a bad sporting failure is expected to be high, but it shouldn’t be over the top.
I would suggest that fans who are new are similar to sporting pundits more used to reacting to football. They react with emotion and bile instead of dealing with the problem like a grown up.
It was a bad year, an unfortunate and gutting end to the greatest coaching reign we have had.
But in the words of Q from Start Trek TNG – ‘All good things….’