IT WOULD BE fair to say that consistency has not been a typical trait of this Irish team over the years.
They have been often brilliant, frequently decent and occasionally awful. In this Six Nations Championship, they were all three at some stage.
Even still, I don’t think anyone saw that scoreline in Twickenham coming or indeed the brutal punishment that was so unmercifully distributed onto the Irish forwards from their English counterparts.
Overall, despite some positives, it has to go down as a disappointing championship for Ireland; one where they picked up just two victories, over Scotland and Italy. Let us examine.
The draw in Paris obviously stands out, a game in which Ireland produced a superb first 40 minutes to lead by 11 points at the interval. The line speed and breakdown work in particular were unrecognisable from the Welsh performance. Paul O’Connell and his side will have been bitterly disappointed not to finish the job but result itself has been diluted somewhat since that game anyway as it turns out France weren’t all that good.
Although not at their best over the last six weeks, Ireland finish as the top try scorers in the championship with a total of 13; three more than Wales who won a grand slam. Not that we needed proof but there is firepower in this team.
The displays of Rob Kearney and Stephen Ferris were more than encouraging as the two stood out from the rest, consistently performing to the highest of standards. Kearney’s ability under the high ball, both in attack and defence, is a sight to behold while Ferris is simply the hit man. His work in the contact area was outstanding.
Elsewhere, Jonny Sexton proved he is capable of performing and place kicking to a high standard in a green shirt. It was never in question really but his jitters from the tee for Ireland had been a concern.
Finally, the induction of two Munster forwards in particular into the Irish eight over the course of the championship proved a more than useful exercise as both Peter O’Mahony and Donncha Ryan proved their worth to this squad. Ryan married his raw aggression with fine lineout work and a real presence around the pitch. It is only a matter of time before he is Paul O’Connell’s full time partner in the second row. He really should be already, if truth be told.
Although he would have liked some more game time, O’Mahony brought his combative style to a green shirt and will be involved in the Irish set up for many years to come.
Star Pupil: Rob Kearney – Reliable and thrilling throughout.
Where to begin? The passive defence against Wales was as surprising as it was frustrating. Although, it was satisfying to see it rectified in such ferocious fashion in Paris. It is not the most pressing of problems however as it can be corrected with some hard work and stern words on the training pitch.
Far more concerning was the annihilation of the Irish scrum in Twickenham on Saturday. Mike Ross clearly wasn’t right from the outset and things got embarrassing when he went off. It was men against boys in the second half and the English pack bullied their Irish counterparts in this facet of the game. It has been a while since we have said that. The reality is that Ireland are incredibly reliant on a couple of props and without them the scrum falls to pieces, as the massacre on Saturday displayed. A production line is needed here and quickly. A scrum coach is already being sought. Timing??
The breakdown was also a problem area for Declan Kidney’s side over the course of the tournament. The Irish penalty count was high and at times, the ball was messy and slow. Think back to the first half against Italy for example or the second against France. This team thrives on quick ball and without it, can get quite predictable and mundane.
Similarly, something is still not right with the balance of the back row. The trio of Seán O’Brien, Stephen Ferris and Jamie Heaslip should be an explosive package, terrorising defences for fun. O’Brien was certainly way off his best and it was only Ferris who operated to his potential. A shake up may be required here.
Must do Better: Gordon D’Arcy – Not only was the magic non-existent but struggled with the basics at times.
This team clearly has potential but didn’t reach it near enough in this Championship. It is difficult to gauge how much of the blame to lay at the coaching team but they surely must accept a sizeable portion of the responsibility. Declan Kidney and his team ultimately select the squad, choose the tactics and are answerable for how this team performs. That is the reality. The coaching team has underperformed here too.
The bottom line is that Ireland won two games, one of which was against a very poor Scottish team on the day and the other was against an Italian side whose captain admitted they gave up in the second half. Yes, they could have easily beaten Wales and were within touching distance in Paris but the fact that they didn’t secure those wins is an indictment in itself.
Verdict: Plenty of potential only realised in fits and starts. Capable of so much more.
What did you make of Ireland’s performaces in the Six Nations?