Hey Kirwan, call yourself the best winger in the world?

The memories of end of season trips to the Southern Hemisphere have proven hard wired for Irish rugby supporters, with 1992 a particular reference point for the Mole. Perhaps in that light, I see shadows where none exist but the overseas’ view of Irish rugby 16 years into professionalism and six European Cups later still tends toward “great passion at the start; contain for one hour; run out of steam; pints of the black stuff”.

The 1992 tour saw Ireland almost pull off one of the greatest shocks of all time as a patched up national team played out of their skins before losing 24-21. That was followed a week later by a 59-6 annihilation that was depressingly predictable. The build up to the tour had seen a number of prominent players withdraw from the trip due to work commitments. Some of the withdrawals didn’t seem that convincing back then and little has changed my opinion in the interim two decades.

How different was then and now? The Mole remembers an anecdote about a member of the backline swapping his kit with NZ centre Eroni Clarke after the second test. Clarke couldn’t get the Irish player’s knicks past his thighs – these Kiwis were a different breed, rugby supermen! What chance had we?! Ireland were whitewashed in the 1992 Five Nations, beaten 38-9 by England and 44-12 by France. The All Ireland League had just started in 1991 and had been heartily embraced throughout the country, particularly in Munster. However, the step up to the international game proved hard for many and Irish international results didn’t noticeably improve until Warren Gatland took over, by which stage Ulster had won a European Cup and Munster had reached their first final.

What does this have to do with a dead rubber third test? The Mole is looking for a big performance and hopefully a result against a team we’ve never beaten. Irish teams have always had it in them to produce a big performance and the occasionally condescending attitude of opponents sometimes helps. There’s still a “doff the cap” attitude to bloody New Zealand in Ireland. They’re not the All Blacks, they’re bloody New Zealand – let’s just re-emphasise that one and thank Matty for broadcasting it. If Ireland don’t produce a big performance then serious question marks remain about Kidney’s ability to develop the national team past it’s stout’n’spuds stereotype.

Kidney is on record about the differences between test matches and all other games. Hearing Richie McCaw echo those sentiments last week reinforced those arguments. What are the differences? The Mole is of the opinion that weaknesses get exploited more ruthlessly the higher up you go – that is, it’s more about avoiding risk than chasing reward. Ireland’s selection looks solid and should be able to replicate last week’s tempo and physicality. If they can, then a Carter-less, Read-less NZ are there to be shot at. At some stage we need to believe we can win this fixture.

The second test reminded the Mole of the game against France in Paris this year: quick line speed, aggressive defence and some opportunism. NZ weren’t provided with loose kicks and ruck ball on a plate. There was comment before the game that Kidney had selected a team to keep the score down. Turned out that worked alright – avoidance of risk. It still raises questions about selection, particularly about some sacred cows. For example, Tommy Bowe is a great try scorer but he’s a poor tackler, as is Rob Kearney. Paul O’Connell is totemic, but he’s a liability as a primary ball carrier.

Fergus McFadden’s “dog” was praised by O’Driscoll in his interview with Thornley and Ireland’s captain was explicit about its importance “I just think there’s a switch that changes when you go out on the pitch and pull a green jersey on. I’ve talked to Rog about it, and you can see it in him. It’s the desire, and you can see it in guys that don’t. And the guys that have it are the ones you want beside you. It’s the ones that have that dog in them. I love that mentality, and it’s infectious. You want to play harder for someone like that.”

Another memory of 1992 is the anecdote about John Kirwan and Neville Furlong of UCG. Furlong was an army man, provided the opportunity to travel by the withdrawal of more established names. Furlong had marked Kirwan, a giant of NZ rugby at the time, when Auckland had hosed Ireland 62-7 before the first test and had to depart with an injury. During the second test the two were matched again and Kirwan took no time in reminding Furlong of their respective pedigrees. Injury struck Furlong again but he stuck at his task and found himself on the end of a move that delivered Ireland’s only try. Limping back to the halfway line, Furlong questioned Kirwan, “Hey Kirwan, call yourself the best winger in the world? You couldn’t even tackle a cripple.” And years later at the end of his career, Kirwan still remembered it!

For all the talk of tactics and technique, is it not the dog that in large part decides who wins? Can Ireland provide the “dog” necessary to beat New Zealand? If they can, will a re-invigorated coaching ticket return to their sacred cows? Or will they be able to bottle that feeling? Lots going on in a dead rubber. We should play these guys more often…

14 thoughts on “Porter’N’Potatoes

  1. The mental quality O’Driscoll is referring to is what the Kiwis constantly refer to as the Mongrel Spirit. Had a Kiwi mate (prop) who had a definition pinned above his work desk.
    “Its not the size of the dog in the fight, its the size of the fight in the dog.” They take it seriously.
    Aussies prize it too.
    Ireland obviously have it but only show it on occasion, too few occasions.
    Hopefully today it makes an appearance.
    Will be taking 2 of the 4 mongrels (real ones) down to Murphy’s Pub in Jakarta to see if I will be writing some sympathetic emails to Kiwi mates tomorrow instead of receiving them.

  2. I heard an interview with Michael Corcoran after the match today and my God he’d leave Thornley for dead in his defence of Kidney. You would have thought he was Deccie’s Mum

  3. Firstly, South Africa about 5 years ago had a gorgeous medic/bottle carrier/side-line helper. I don’t know her name or what her real job was, but she was stunning.

    If anyone still has a copy of Saturday’s game, check 25 min 19 sec into the game and a face in the crowd behind Weepiu ‘s shoulder. Has to be the new most beautiful woman in the World!

    As for Ireland and the game. I reckon the only players to come out with positives were Healy, Ryan and possibly Best. Break-evens were Murray and ….. that’s about all.

    O’Driscoll reminds me of an Irish and Lions centre vintage 1974 called Dick Milliken. Never in BO’D’s class but outstanding at his time. He broke his leg, recuperated and came back to try to play at International level again. Tried too hard and failed. BO’D did the same this tour.

    Sexton is good – but needs a well-programmed set of game-plans to function. Not good off-the-cuff or with players from outside his comfort zone regardless of their capabilities. A fact recognised by the Barbarians’ selectors.

    Kidney is a busted flush, his demise exacerbated by the IRFU and the populist (though frequently ignorant of the realities of rugby) press. You don’t need to venture any further than what the Academy system is producing to confirm this fact.

    Take the ‘rising stars’ within the current Irish squad as examples. And compare them to similar ‘products’ of the Welsh and Scottish systems. McFadden? McLoughlin? O’Mahony? Murray? The latter has the advantage of Provincial and National coach support. The rest really only have their Academy selection-criteria and rave press reviews to support their International credentials. It is totally unreasonable to expect the National coaching structure to be the primary source of real game experience to promising juveniles secreted from the system to ‘dry-practice’ skills and physique development.

    Gatland is rightly lauded for giving youth a chance. But, would Davies, North, Halfpenny et al have been picked had they not had regular game exposure allied to their development?

    Let’s be honest. It is unfair and frankly, stupid, to expect a National coach to select players that Provincial coaches don’t except where, say, an established Provincial player has skill-sets outside his normal position.

    • I’m a little confused – are you saying that McFadden, McLoughlin and O’Mahony did *not* have regular game exposure in contrast to Davies, North & Halfpenny?

      • What I am saying is that players in the Academies here are afforded restricted match time.

      • @BrianHodge:
        McFadden played 21 games for Leinster this season, 28 the year before.
        McLoughlin played 26 games for Leinster this season, 15 the year before.
        O’Mahony played 22 games for Munster this season, 9 the year before.
        Murray played 15 games for Munster this season, 12 the year before.

        North played 12 game for Scarlets this season, 14 the year before.
        J Davies played 12 games for Scarlets this season, 10 the year before.
        Cardiff’s website is down so I can’t check his.

        I don’t think your point stands up regardless of what year you consider the “breakout” year to be for the various young ‘uns. These guys are getting game time for their provinces long before the Irish management will consider looking at them.

      • Firstly you are correct. On re-reading my post I admit it is unclear. However, I was not talking about players post-academy so for those mentioned, the last two years are not relevant to the point I was trying to make.
        Basically, I am not convinced that the academies as structured are the complete solution to young player development. Also, the fact that an academy graduate is showing potential is insufficient justification to include him in International tours. Their Provincial coaches are the ones to develop and nurture them.

      • Ok, I see what you are saying and will take your word for it re the acadamies as I don’t really know much about the Irish set up (or anything about the Welsh!).

    • @Brian Hodge, we’ve a few articles from the archives that might be of interest:
      https://dementedmole.com/2012/01/05/m85-86/ looks at the dearth of players developed under Kidney’s watch during his time at Munster and contrasts that to McGahan’s time in charge of the province.
      review 5 players (originally) who played for the u20s during the 6 Nations this year with a reference to Tadhg Furlong in the comments of the first piece and a greater emphasis on him for the JWC.
      The idea was to keep an eye on how players developed: what games they played, what positions they were started in, were they used as subs, did they stay with their province?

  4. Well that performance was a tad embarrassing.
    Embarrassing for the NH as a group as that was a 8.5 out of 9 score to the SH. (Apologies to any Scots reading but am only counting the 3 match series that were played against same opposition.)

    It is time for Deccie to honourably fall on his sword but think that he was also let down by the team and they have consistently let him, themselves and us down.
    They are professional athletes who should have attitude, conditioning and skills that should allow Ireland to compete but a 60 – 0 drubbing is not competing by any stretch of the imagination.
    It appears that there is a severe attitude issue among the players and it is the players responsibility both individually and collectively to correct.
    The performance against England was another example of not competing; the scrum may have been in severe trouble but the lack of fire in rucking, tackling etc was obvious. Munster had earlier in the season had a similar scrum issue with Northampton but still managed to win away handsomely in the Heineken cup.
    (I am a Munster supporter but only use the example above as can see similarities. Their end of season performance against Ospreys in Rabo semi-final where they conceded 5 tries should make them very concerned for next season.)

    I pray that having 3 Kiwi coaches in the provincial system may be the beginning of a revolution in terms of attitude, conditioning and skills development but hope that it pervades deeper than just the provincial squads but to academy squads and further down to club and underage levels. It is a pity that there appears to be a necessity to hire them and give them valuable experience that they later capitalise on back in NZ for the benefit of the national team as happens now.

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