IRELAND’s indiscipline is spreading like a contagion. It causes indecision and an overall ebb in confidence.
It is seen as the main obstacle to progress as Wales and England loom on the horizon.
“We can’t make excuses for giving away penalties. We’ve got to be harder on ourselves. It’s nothing new, it’s not rocket science,” said Ireland centre Gordon D’Arcy.
The management and players have spoken of how discipline is a non-negotiable basis for moving forward.
The generalities have been tossed around like a meat-free salad. It is time to take a stand. Who are Ireland’s offenders? And will they pay the price? Which players have conceded the penalties to put Ireland within a Ronan O’Gara drop goal of being beaten by Italy for the first time in the Six Nations?
Who surrendered the needless three-pointers to Morgan Parra (four) and Dimitri Yachvili (one) to bring about the end of the dream of a second Grand Slam in three seasons?
Who were the culprits who brought Scotland back into a Six Nations match that should have been wrapped up well before a nervous conclusion in Edinburgh?
In the three Six Nations matches to date, Ireland have conceded 34 penalties, 16 of which have been kicked at their posts, and received 17 in return. Against Italy, three Munster players, Tomás O’Leary, Donncha O’Callaghan and Denis Leamy, were found guilty of handing Italy the momentum of easy points to keep them within reach of Ireland – Mirco Bergamasco took two of the chances – until O’Gara rescued them from disaster.
Against France, Ireland gave away an unforgivable seven penalties within range of their posts. Six of them were converted in time for right wing Maxime Medard’s try to make all the difference.
David Wallace and Paul O’Connell were harshly penalised by English referee Dave Pearson. O’Callaghan was a guilty party again, along with Ulstermen Rory Best and Tom Court, Ospreys’ Tommy Bowe and Leinster’s Fergus McFadden.
Against Scotland, Leinster number eight Jamie Heaslip was twice seen to be blatantly infringing by Welsh referee Nigel Owens, while O’Connell made an instinctive reaction to Luke Fitzgerald’s knockon for his misdemeanour.
Prop Cian Healy, for offside, hooker Best, for not releasing, and replacement Leamy, for hands in the ruck, were all found to be in dereliction of their duties. In a league table of transgressors, Leamy leads the way for earning a yellow card against Italy, committing two fouls – one in each of the first and third matches – and committing a woeful offence that forced referee Owens to signal a penalty advantage for Dan Parks drop goal for Scotland.
Furthermore, Munster players have accounted for exactly half (eight) of the kickable penalties awarded in a season where their players came into the Six Nations without a Heineken Cup quarterfinal in the bank for the first time in 13 seasons.
It could be confidence and/or culture related. Like Alan Quinlan, Leamy has always played right on the edge of legality. The emphasis on policing the breakdown has meant that Munster’s once streetwise approach there is now a liability. A message must be sent.This cannot be tolerated.
Leamy has to pay the price of finding himself outside the matchday squad for the game in Cardiff. Coach Declan Kidney cannot afford to take the same stern line with the four players – Paul O’Connell, Donncha O’Callaghan, Rory Best and Jamie Heaslip – with two counts against them.
They are simply indispensable, even though Leo Cullen for O’Callaghan is the one decision that would strengthen Ireland’s resolve to banish the current malaise. Old habits die hard; old soldiers even harder.