“IT HAPPENED AND we just have to get on with it at this stage…”
So says Donnacha Ryan, one of the few men in green who emerged without much criticism after a 42-10 defeat to New Zealand on Saturday morning.
Against such an irresistible force, though, how can Ireland go about narrowing the obvious gaps?
In the immediate aftermath, Brian O’Driscoll highlighted this area as the winning and losing of the game. That goes without saying for almost every fixture, but with the All Blacks religiously keeping the ball in play, avoiding line-outs and scrums being at a refreshing premium it holds more weight than usual.
Nigel Owens will again be the man asked to police the game, so Ireland have very little room for excuses when playing with such a familiar referee.
“We can’t be going in soft.” Ryan continued in his interview on the IRFU website, “We have to be very aggressive for 80 minutes and make sure nobody is hiding out there.”
Expect Ireland to ramp up the intensity in that area, but don’t expect the home side to shirk the challenge in Christchurch.
Peter O’Mahony may consider himself more of a six than a seven, but when you look around the globe at the men chosen to play as a blind-side you can’t help but feel something is missing from O’Mahony – bulk.
Stephen Ferris, Jerome Kaino, Victor Vito, Rocky Elsom, Willem Alberts, David Denton… we’ll stop before we leave someone out, but you get the picture. O’Mahony has shown promise as an open-side and he may yet succeed there. With Ferris out injured, Sean O’Brien must be given the task.
Stand by your man
Declan Kidney made the changes, but will he stick with them? Is a 32-point loss enough to convince him that he was on the right track all along and recall Donncha O’Callaghan and Gordon D’Arcy?
With Keith Earls carrying his shoulder home, the (in local parlance) second five-eighth shirt is up for grabs. Fergus McFadden would surely love an opportunity to play his favourite position – further away from Julian Savea – but we fully expect Kidney to go with BOD’s long-term lieutenant
Elsewhere though, the injury situation has less finality and so Simon Zebo, Dan Tuohy and Declan Fitzpatrick (even if Mike Ross is fit) should be held in the starting line-up.
The long awaited appearance of Ireland’s exciting new game-plan made a fleeting appearance in the first quarter. But the brave expansive approach, full of off-loads and subtle changes of angle, was undermined by some aimless kicking for position. Conor Murray’s box-kicks were a chief culprit. Israel Dagg is far, far too good to be tempted into possession on his half way line.
Murray, a man who burst on the international scene with a disallowed try at Eden Park in September looks a man low on confidence and Kidney must be starting to ponder letting Eoin Reddan or (perish the thought) Paul Marshall off the leash.
Hope and belief
One thing is for sure. Ireland are not going to beat the World Champions on their own patch – and on a meaningful return to Christchurch – without a couple of large slices of luck.
On Saturday morning Dan Carter’s left boot was at its most unerring. Brilliant as he is, consistency off the tee has never been Carter’s trade-mark and his opening three penalties ensured the visitors were thoroughly demoralised by the time Savea grounded his first ever international try.
Minutes later, with the score 16-3, Ireland declined a kickable penalty for a line-out. The crowd love it, but more often than not, when Ireland do this it is because they are not confident that they can reel in an opponent after taking an early lead.
They must believe they can keep chipping away. Give New Zealand an inch and, well, they’ll beat you by 32 points.