SPEAKING IN QUEENSTOWN on Thursday, Keith Earls revealed some advice he had received from former Munster teammate, Rua Tipoki.
‘Play the man, not the jersey’, counselled Tipoki, a proud Kiwi.
Ireland found out on Saturday that the man in the All Black jersey, whether on debut, a grizzled veteran, superstar or a bit-part contributor, was two levels above where they want to be.
Declan Kidney was travelling to New Zealand, we were told, to win the series and to keep a ‘small eye on the future’ of the Irish rugby playing pool.
First starts were awarded to Declan Fitzpatrick, Simon Zebo and Dan Tuohy in Auckland.
Chastened by a 42-10 defeat, the small eye was blinkered by the fear of further heavy losses and, come the third Test in Hamilton, Paddy Wallace, fresh from an interrupted family holiday in Portugal, was lining up at number 12.
Kidney, Sean O’Brien and Brian O’Driscoll all declared that last weekend’s performance in that agonising 22-19 defeat would mean little if Ireland could not produce a similar effort.
The final loss was the most galling and, despite an excellent showing in the second Test, a long summer awaits.
2009 feels a lifetime ago
There will be the inevitable, and in some cases justified, calls for many Irish players to take a step back from the international scene following this season but it must be acknowledged that the team has been through some major changes since the captured the Grand Slam in 2009.
The front row is completely new – no more John Hayes, Jerry Flannery or Marcus Horan – and while Donnacha O’Callaghan was a fleeting and ineffectual replacement, his second-row colleague Paul O’Connell missed out through injury and has not got many playing years left.
Denis Leamy, Shane Horgan and David Wallace have retired while Tomas O’Leary and Peter Stringer, who shared the scrum-half duties, are surplus to requirements.
With Jamie Heaslip, Tommy Bowe, Luke Fitzgerald, Stephen Ferris and Gordon D’Arcy all injured, only two players that began the Grand Slam-clinching game against the Welsh were in the starting XV against the All Blacks.
Ronan O’Gara, who started in 2009, remarked to TheScore.ie earlier in the week that the current side lacked the willingness to do anything and everything it took to get over the finish line.
Perhaps that is why Kidney called up Wallace, a replacement that day against Wales, to bring back some of that Grand Slam spirit that had served the Irish so well.
May 19 is a distant memory
Rob Kearney admitted post-match that it had not been a great season for the national side.
Sure, he added, there were close games against Wales, France and the All Blacks (in Christchurch) but a win was not forthcoming in each match.
Rob Kearney fails to halt the bullocking Liam Messam. (©INPHO/Billy Stickland)
The Ireland U-20s performed above and beyond expectations at the Junior World Cup and out-half JJ Hanrahan was nominated for the World Junior Player of the Year but Kearney believes it is too soon to promote from such youthful ranks. He said:
They have had a really impressive World Cup down in South Africa so I’m sure a lot of them will feature for their provinces next year. That seems to be the natural progression through.
“I’d be loath to suggest that they come out of the 20s World Cup right into the national set-up but I think that provincial rugby is the perfect stepping stone between those.”
Kearney was one of 11 Irish players lining out in jerseys 1-15 in Hamilton that started for Leinster or Ulster in the Heineken Cup Final on 19 May.
It is a shame that, for those players, the highly competitive day in Twickenham will feel like a life-time ago.
*You can follow all the comments, reactions and fall-out from the Irish camp by following @patmccarry on Twitter and by regularly checking in with TheScore.ie.