A first defeat for Ireland since autumn 2008 is food for thought on changing personnel for the now must-win fixture against England, writes Killian Woods
The bitter taste associated with defeat is one that accumulates a certain zest when not experienced for a prolonged period of time, meaning Ireland’s loss to France in the second round of the Six Nations was that bit harder to palate. Along with being a hard result to assimilate, Saturday’s defeat has forced many heads to turn and reconsider their perception of this Irish team.
In times when defeat is comprehensive, it is very easy to advocate making wholesale changes to a side that looked second best all over the pitch. Declan Kidney can no doubt see certain facets of Ireland’s game that require improvement, though following the absolute manner in which the French disposed of Ireland, wholesale changes may be the solution.
The Irish match-day squad of 22 that faced France had been built up as the best-equipped team in ten years to go to Paris and come away with victory. Looking through the side’s form over the past year, it was typical to make this assumption that Ireland would defeat a very similar French team to that which took field in Croke Park last year. Unfortunately, there is one key aspect of this Ireland team that was never of sufficient quality to defeat France on their home patch.
Ireland’s issues at scrum half have managed to go unnoticed for the majority of Kidney’s reign, due to reluctance from the Irish management to change a winning formula. During this time, Tomas O’Leary has been a weak link in the Irish backline and has been at fault for bringing the Irish side under much pressure, due to his poor ability to complete the basic duties of a scrum half.
O’Leary’s constant need to take a step back from the base of a ruck in order to make his pass has been slowing his delivery to the backline for too long. Another of his failings – the Munster man’s inability to box-kick – regularly gives the opposition a good platform to attack from and just adds to the list of reasons for his omission, and the inclusion of a no-nonsense character like Eoin Reddan.
But it would be wrong to lay every shred of blame on O’Leary and challenge Ireland to change their entire ethos after one poor performance. Intrinsically, the team does not need to change the mentality which has been engraved in their persona. The never-say-die attitude that comes without saying in any Kidney team is precisely what pulls the Irish team through crunch, low-scoring games. Ireland’s main issue revolves around being able to sustain a game plan that doesn’t involve all out attack.
The opening stages in the Stade de France saw Kidney and his team attempt to play to their strength as they implemented a tactical kicking game and took on France at the lineout. This strategy nullified the French only for as long as the Irish put it in place. But on 18 minutes when Morgan Parra gave France the lead against the run of play, Ireland reverted to their typical style of open and expansive of rugby – exactly the wrong manner to go about beating the French in Paris.
Ireland lost to a superior French side who, although looking impressive, are still likely to throw up another performance similar to that of Murrayfield, where they stuttered to victory. With England still to go to Paris, Ireland may have to hope for an English favour come the final game of the tournament.