‘YOU COME AT the king, you best not miss.’ – Omar Little, The Wire.
When Ireland came within minutes of a historic result seven days ago, this was the unspoken fear.
The All Blacks, the World Champions, took stock and unleashed an early torrent of Aaron Cruden inspired napalm upon Ireland.
The folly of a third test against the most unforgiving team on the planet was written large. New Zealand’s intent had been well highlighted beforehand, too.
The one positive we can take from this tour is that – for seven days at least – New Zealand truly respected us a threat. It could be seen in their sudden shock at our drinking behaviour (it was no different in the World Cup and they thought we were great craic) and the media hatchet job on Kevin McLaughlin. They were mildly concerned, so they pulled out all the stops.
In response, Ireland rocked up from Queenstown with talk of close calls and going one better. Sean O’Brien managed to accidentally prophecise:
“There’s no point in putting out a performance like last week and then going out and getting hockeyed this week.”
Well, Seanie: that’s what we did.
A season which began with four consecutive defeats, ends with a little symmetry. But it’s the big fat zero that is most troubling.
It’s a little over five years since Ireland last failed to register a single score. On that occasion Eddie O’Sullivan brought a shadow squad to Argentina, one of a litany of mistakes in the summer before the 2007 World Cup. We were sent packing 16 – 0 from the Velez Sarsfield stadium confident that wrongs would be put right in the autumn. It was the beginning of the end.
It’s been a long, long season; seven wins from 19 this term. The above tweet from Hick sums up the pressure now honing in on Declan Kidney. For all the brilliance he seemed to inspire last week and against Australia in Eden Park, these are blips; exceptions that prove the rule that Kidney’s time as an Ireland coach should now reach a necessary end.
Since he delivered two Heineken Cups to Munster and a long-awaited Grand Slam to Ireland, the game has changed. Experimental laws have become plain old laws. Kidney’s favoured style of rugby is past its sell-by date and though he makes the right noises about moving forward, it’s not in his DNA.
This morning, speaking to Sky Sports, he was unusually clear and forthright
“They played well, but there were times we let them play well.” He said.
“We made too many turnovers, if you look at the first 20 minutes of all three tests it was completely different.”
Kidney was asked to comment on his favourite subject, positive spin. He mentioned aspects like; giving youth its chance, and blooding a spare prop, but even he found them hollow words and hinted that many of the young faces could ‘fall by the wayside’ after this tour. He then stepped back from the faux-silver lining to state:
“They won all the collisions – it was our job to front up to them and we didn’t do it. I’m not going to try and make up for what was a hammering.”
Having delivered a rare trophy to these shores, perhaps he deserves a golden handshake to end his contract. Perhaps he shouldn’t have to resign. Maybe the only thing that will convince the IRFU to take drastic measures will be empty seats during the traditionally money-spinning autumn internationals.
While the prospect of the Sprngboks will, no doubt, draw a crowd. The thought of a Jekyll and Hyde Ireland facing Argentina in mid-winter will not inspire anyone to dig deep into their pockets. Who knows?
You could say, it would be harsh on Kidney to pass judgment after three tests against the World Champions. We all fully expected to lose all three tests, and there were even some exciting decisions made by the coach early in the tour.
However, just like the good results he can conjure up and the brief period when New Zealand respected us enough to use underhand off-field tactics, they turn out to be no more than blips.