comment | 

How the weaknesses of the Ireland squad were exposed by the All Blacks

If you are going to beat New Zealand, every player has to play above himself. Not enough Irish players did that yesterday.
Dan Sheehan was our best player yesterday (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Dan Sheehan was our best player yesterday (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)© Getty Images

Mick GalweySunday World

SOBERING, that’s the word for it.

An Irish team that came very close to a Six Nations Grand Slam this year was rightly put in their box in Auckland yesterday by an All Black team playing together for the first time in eight months.

If you are going to beat New Zealand, every player has to play above himself. Not enough Irish players did that yesterday.

You’ve got to cut out the daft mistakes, such as the intecept try or Jamison Gibson-Park taking a tap penalty when it was only 14-5 to our hosts.

For God’s sake, kick the points – get it back to 14-8, and halt the momentum that the Kiwis were beginning to enjoy. Little things, yes, but they become great things against New Zealand.

And as soon as the home crowd get behind their team in a venue where they have not lost a Test since 1994, well, then you end up with 42-19.

Sadly, too, once again, Johnny Sexton had to leave a Test match for a HIA after crashing head first into the elbow of All Black captain Sam Cane.

Johnny is our leader, our best man in the most pivotal position on the rugby pitch, out-half.

Sexton had to go off yesterday after another HIA

Sexton had to go off yesterday after another HIA© Getty Images

But this is happening just too regularly now for it to be good for the player, the team, the squad, the management.

Remember, Johnny missed the February match against France, the one that was effectively the Grand Slam decider, because of a HIA.

Will he be able to play in Dunedin next Saturday? The doctors will decide that.

I’m not a doctor and know nothing about head injuries, but I do know that Johnny turns 37 next week.

He will be 38 and three months old at the heart of the 2023 World Cup. How long can this go on, where every time our top man gets into a tackle, the whole nation winces.

Joey Carbery (inset below right) did well when he came on yesterday – and I’d actually start him next Saturday, even though we have to win the match to keep the series alive.

I’m sure, as he takes time to reflect on the game. Irish coach Andy Farrell (inset below) will feel like the guy in Jaws who kept warning, “we’re gonna need a bigger boat”.

I couldn’t believe it when the pre-match graphic popped up on the TV screen, showing that the All Black pack was almost half a stone a man heavier than our guys.

I’ve met our guys over the years, they are huge men. But these guys were bigger.

Peter O’Mahony of Ireland was excellent

Peter O’Mahony of Ireland was excellent© Getty Images

A half a stone doesn’t matter in a one-to-one tackle around the pitch.

Where it matters is in the scrum – and Ireland were never confident there all day.

New Zealand had their way with us at that set-piece, and it is worrying going forward.

Then the Kiwis brought on their front-row equivalent of South Africa’s ‘Bomb Squad’ to finish out the match. They pulverised us in a couple of late scrums.

This lack of big men stems from the problem that rugby is a poor fourth in field games in Ireland, in terms of numbers – behind soccer, gaelic football and hurling. We simply don’t have the numbers of players.

New Zealand may have a smaller population than the island of Ireland, but Down Under rugby is to them what hurling is to Kilkenny people, a religion, a way of life, everyone is at least introduced to the game at some point in their youth.

Does every Irish young boy or girl get to hold a rugby ball when they are 11 years of age?

No, they don’t and as long as that applies we are pushing the snowball up the hill in international rugby.

We’ll have our good days, but we’ll never get that snowball all the way to the top.

Sadly, Irish rugby is now in the position where the second Leinster pack is almost the second Irish pack.

And that is not good enough because Ulster, Munster and Connacht’s forwards are not putting enough pressure on these guys to change Farrell’s mind about having second-tier Leinster forwards in his group.

Mind you, one of those ‘Leinster seconds’, Dan Sheehan, was outstanding yesterday in Auckland.

He was Ireland’s best player, to my mind – and never shirked a physical battle.

Yet, in the mind of Leinster coach Leo Cullen, Dan is back-up to the now injured Ronan Kelleher.

One of the older guard, Peter O’Mahony, had an immense match, too. To think there were people calling for him to be dropped from the Irish squad a few years ago.

How little those people know about the game. O’Mahony has been one of Munster and Ireland’s finest warriors for years. And he still holds that status.

It was interesting, too, that it was only when he became captain that we began to hear an Irish voice conversing with English referee Karl Dickson.

Mr Dickson gave Ireland nothing all through the match. He continually allowed All Blacks to hold Irish players into rucks and mauls, delaying the clearing of the ball on the Irish side.

A disappointed Andy Farrell

A disappointed Andy Farrell© Getty Images

These are the dark arts of rugby – and New Zealand have been brilliant at them all through their illustrious history. It was said of Richie McCaw that he lived offside. But referees seem reluctant to ever blow them for these offences.

As I wrote, those are the dark arts, but now there are linesmen and TMO’s who should see them. There’s no excuse anymore.

That’s the downside of New Zealand rugby. The upside yesterday was their superb killer instinct, when they got Ireland on the run in the last 20 minutes of the first half.

Another was their passion in defence as Ireland got over their try line four times in the match – and all the Boys in Green came away with was the old Eurovision Song Contest score of ‘nul point’.

That was brilliant work by New Zealand. By contrast Ardie Savea beat four Irishmen on his way to scoring his second try.

It is simply not acceptable at international level to concede a seven-pointer in that manner.

As they used to say on the Leaving Cert papers, compare and contrast.

Andy Farrell was missing a couple of players for his bench yesterday. But that was more or less his best XV that started the match.

When Ireland face New Zealand or France in the World Cup quarter-final next year, three, maybe even four of Farrell’s first choices then, will miss the match because of injuries picked up in the pool stages.

You’d worry about what the score will be that night.


Today's Headlines

More Rugby

Download the Sunday World app

Now download the free app for all the latest Sunday World News, Crime, Irish Showbiz and Sport. Available on Apple and Android devices