Wednesday 17 January 2018

England loss not end of world

Dave Kearney shines bright but Tommy Bowe has work to do

Ireland's Dave Kearney and England's Chris Robshaw and Ben Morgan during the World Cup Warm up match at Twickenham Stadium, London
Ireland's Dave Kearney and England's Chris Robshaw and Ben Morgan during the World Cup Warm up match at Twickenham Stadium, London
5 September 2015; Courtney Lawes, England, is tackled by Jonathan Sexton, left, and Jared Payne, Ireland. Rugby World Cup Warm-Up Match, England v Ireland. Twickenham Stadium, London, England. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

History can be manna from heaven when you need reassurance.

All the chatter about the unwanted tag of Ireland searching for confidence going into the World Cup, instead of taking it with them, is overblown.

While Ireland came unstuck against Wales in the 2011 quarter-final, it was still their best tournament of the seven played to that point - a sad sign of our historical under-achievements.

The reason it outdid all that had travelled before was quite simple.

Ireland outmanoeuvred Australia on a memorable night in Eden Park to record their one and only victory over the three southern hemisphere powerhouse countries at those seven World Cups.

In 2011, Declan Kidney's Ireland succumbed rather submissively to Scotland (10-6), France twice (19-12 & 26-22) and England (20-9) to leave for New Zealand with the appalling collateral damage having played four and lost four.


"We made a lot of mistakes. That's the one thing we didn't do when we beat them in March," reflected Paul O'Connell in the aftermath of the England warm-up in 2011.

The very same sentence could have been copied and pasted into what happened on Saturday on foot of Ireland's 'cream pie to the face' of England (19-9) last March.

Back in 2011, it became an irrelevance, a mere footnote as Ireland grew into the competition clearing the path of nations in front of them, namely USA (22-10), Australia (15-6), Russia (62-12) and Italy (36-6), before falling to Wales' chop tackle tactic (22-10) in Wellington.

Fast forward four years.

While there was significant motivation for Ireland to take out England on Saturday, their hosts were working under the pressure of giving their nation a reason to believe that they can do what they did in 2003.

Stuart Lancaster's generals and foot soldiers stepped up as one to make a physical statement.

Ireland did not bring the same gain line gathering steel in a sport where those who dominate the muscle match generally take the spoils.

And so it came to pass.

The facts and figures allied to the detailed review reveal how Ireland's set-piece was at least on a par with or better than England's.

There were no major injuries to report that would lead all those invested to have a major rethink and Joe Schmidt has a benchmark against which to evaluate the state of play for all individuals involved.

For instance, Tommy Bowe played more like a cub than a British & Irish Lion. There had been confirmation about how he trailed others in his fitness. He was shown up by Jonny May more than once.

In sharp contrast, Dave Kearney surely played his way into Schmidt's first fifteen with, arguably, the best performance of his time in an Ireland shirt.

In an overall sense, there is no reason to reach for a pistol and aim at either foot.

Paul O'Connell has been on this particular roller-coaster for all of his international career.

The Ireland captain distilled the game into the dual out of touch.

"When it came to it, they had a seven-metre lineout, they threw a penalty from it and kicked cross-field and scored a try," he said.

"When we had a seven-metre lineout in the first half, we turned it over and that kind of summed it up."

The discipline was better than against Wales because there was trust in Les Kiss's defensive system.

Where Ireland made gains in some areas, they made losses in others.

They coughed up a sickly twelve turnovers in the first-half and missed 22 tackles against England's nine.

"I do feel the guys are in a good place," pushed O'Connell. "We just need to bring it all together."

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