AHEAD OF A game that is almost universally being billed as a must-win for the national rugby team in Murrayfield, Ryle Nugent remains a voice of reason and patience; unmoved against the tide of doom and gloom merchants. The distinctive commentator, who is now Head of Sport in RTE, is philosophical in his assessment of Ireland’s recent performances.
“It’s cyclical; and it’s only two years since Ireland won the Grand Slam. And it’s ostensibly the same group of players, there or thereabouts.”“The national team are preparing for a Rugby World Cup, and yeah we were beaten by the French; just beaten. But there’s an argument to say that if we had cut out the mistakes we would’ve beaten the French.”
While Nugent acknowledges that the side has failed to reproduce the dizzy heights of 2009 and the heroic performances that went with it, he cites recent history as an example of how bad form can quickly be forgotten.
We went to the 2007 World Cup and bombed by everyone’s standards. Two years later, which is just two seasons later and we won the Grand Slam. Now we’re at the cusp of another World Cup and let’s see.
If the side that struggled in the Six Nations opener in Rome was suffering from inhibition, then at least the side that appeared against France in the Aviva was a different animal. Indiscipline ultimately cost them the game, but Ireland seemed to be rediscovering their personality and ability to express themselves.
The disappointment of the players and management was clearly evident in the direct aftermath of the game. Brian O’Driscoll and Declan Kidney did not hide behind any empty clichés or hard luck stories. Both men, to their credit, showed admirable character by admitting to mistakes and demanded more from the squad.
But when emotion is stripped away, an objective look at the match yields the conclusion that Ireland gave their best performance in some time and with a little more luck they could have easily snatched a confidence-building victory.
“Sport…it’s errors,” Nugent reasoned. “The margin here is minimal. It’s inches. Sean Cronin holds on to that pass in the dying minutes of the game against France, Ireland go over in the corner and we’ve beaten them by four tries to one. And all of a sudden everyone is talking about a Grand Slam and not the penalties that were given away or playing the game in the wrong areas of the pitch or whatever other issues.”
It’s that tight. It’s all inches that success or failure is measured. So I wouldn’t be one running out and saying that the game is on the way down.
“I would say we’re going to finish second or third in the Six Nations. We’re going to the Rugby World Cup and the expectation is that we get to the quarter-final and after that see.”
“I don’t buy into the doom and gloom. They’ve done extremely well and played to a consistent standard, some years have been better than others. But in the last ten to twelve years, it’s been consistently good.”
On Sunday one of the men who has forged the successful path in that timeframe will be given a chance to peg back the Scots. Ronan O’Gara has excelled in the cameo roles he has played to date in the competition, and is entitled to his first international start of 2011.
As with Nugent, you sense there is no panic about O’Gara’s attitude to the national team. Sometimes you need someone with an experienced head; someone that knows that if success can quickly change to disappointment, it can turn back just as easily too.