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Saturday 7 December 2019

Shades of 2007 in London debacle

Effect of record loss yet to be seen

Conor Murray after his HIA. Photo: SPORTSFILE
Conor Murray after his HIA. Photo: SPORTSFILE

It would be a dereliction of duty not to look back and make a connection, however tenuous, to what history has taught us.

Ireland's 2007 World Cup campaign never had a chance to be good because of what happened before they got to France.

If the record-losing defeat to England (57-15) on Saturday shows anything, it is that the pre-season does mean something.

You simply can't ignore the sheer statistical weight given to the facts Ireland endured their worst losing margin (42 points) to England in a defeat in which the Red Roses also totalled more than 50 points for the first time in the 135th international between the nations.

Wrong

Back in 2007, it meant almost everything because Eddie O'Sullivan's could never make right what went wrong against Scotland, French club Bayonne and Italy.

It didn't look great when Ireland were well beaten by Scotland (31-21) in Murrayfield and survived 'The Battle of Bayonne' (42-6) in France.

"I remember that being the start of the panic thinking, 'we are so far off here,'" said Brian O'Driscoll, in recalling Bayonne last week.

It didn't get any better six days later in Ravenhill when Ireland would have lost were it not for Ronan O'Gara snatching a dubious injury-time try, in what could be best described as 'a hometown decision.'

At that stage, Ireland had completed their three warm-up matches and had made no discernible improvement.

The gallows awaited in France where even Namibia and Georgia could have given it to them in the neck.

Sometimes it doesn't take a loss to feel like a 'loser' and by the time Ireland came to play France (25-3) and Argentina (30-15) they were all out of everything.

Ebb

Now, they are not yet at the same low ebb, but still, there have to be a lot of scary thoughts travelling through the minds of those who have committed the value of a mortgage on a small house in Longford to the World Cup.

When England turned the screws on Ireland at the Aviva in February, the players and the coaches could not quite fix what was so badly "broken".

They had four shots at it, eventually getting trampled on by Grand-slamming Wales.

They said the summer would be long enough to erase every Ireland international's 'goldfish memory' when it comes to mental scarring.

Afterall, you can't afford to hold onto the things that sting too long in this game or you will never bring about change.

The fine line between being ready enough to compete and ready to win can cause a lot of trouble, if you fall on the wrong side of it.

Ireland are there now, face down with all the problems they have from a malfunctioning lineout to the 34 missed tackles piled on top of them.

They were not expected to win in England.

They were expected to go close enough to come home encouraged by where they are in the process from practiced-fitness to match-fitness.

What a complete man-handling does to the psyche will all be revealed in time.

Have 'the auld enemy' managed to confirm their superiority or, worse again, Ireland's inferiority at the most uncertain time in Joe Schmidt's reign?

Or will this be the making of Ireland?

Wales were able to turn a loss in Twickenham (33-19) into a win in the Principality (21-13) in one week - a 22-point turnaround.

Scotland were able to turn a demoralising defeat in France (32-3) into an uplifting experience in Murrayfield (17-14) in one week - a 32-point turnaround.

The difference between those is that the Welsh and Scots had the advantage of home comforts to generate the feelgood fact that can only come from being among your own people.

Schmidt's latest 23-man squad brought to 33 the number of men who have had a chance to make a case.

The seven left without a blowout is informative. There are the nailed-on certainties in Jonathan Sexton, Keith Earls, Robbie Henshaw and James Ryan.

Then, there are 'persons of interest' in David Kilcoyne, Will Addison and Jack Conan.

All three will have been greatly encouraged at their personal prospects.

Ireland will move from the Lions' den into the mouth of the dragon for what will be Warren Gatland's last appearance in Wales as the national coach.

The number one nation in the world are where Ireland were last week, sitting in the sunshine.

Plans

They have been working away in 40 degree of heat in Turkey, fine tuning the plans for back-to-back Celtic contests with the Irish.

The reports suggest Gatland will eschew the temptation to make a grand statement by unleashing his best men at the Principality.

Instead, that fierce competitor Josh Navidi is in line to captain a collective that will include just lock Jake Ball from the 15 that toppled England nine days ago.

There are still games to arrestthe situation.

It is just the clock is ticking like a time-bomb.

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