Ye’re not the first Irish team to bring disgrace on the nation and ye won’t be the last.
Who is reputed to have uttered those lines and in what circumstances? The answer a little later, my friends.
We have been here before. The Year was 2007. A World Cup on our doorsteps, a squad with minimal injuries and an abundance of confidence after success at national level in the 6 Nations (Triple Crown and 2nd place finish in the 6 Nations) and provincial success in Europe lodged in the memory bank (Munster with their initial European success in 2006). Eddie O’Sullivan was the Head Coach and alongside him were Niall O’Donovan, as Forwards Coach, Graham Steadman, Defence Coach, Mark Tainton, Kicking Coach, Mike McGurn, Fitness Coach and Mervyn Murphy, Video Analyst.
Ireland had lost the Six Nations in controversial circumstances. We played and beat Italy well in the Eternal City on the final Saturday, St Patrick’s Day, critically however with the early kick-off of 1.30 p.m and conceding a last minute try, in endeavouring to score our ninth try against an Italian team playing only for pride.
Unlike the extraordinary events of Saturday 21st March 2015, three hours later it was the French playing the Scots in Paris, with South African Craig Joubert as referee and Irishman Simon McDowell as TMO, who awarded the French a very invisible sixth try in the 80th minute to allow them to claim the Championship on points difference ahead of Ireland. (France won by 46-19 having required a 24 point differential).
We never suspected it on that wonderful St Patrick’s Day in 2007, but it was downhill from there for the rest of 2007 and there were some pretty terrible memories etched in Bordeaux and Paris during RWC 2007. However, it didn’t just start when we got to France, do you remember this:
Murrayfield Sat 11th Aug 2007: Scotland 31 Ireland 21 (5 tries to two for Scotland)
Ireland: Geordan Murphy; Brian Carney, Brian O’Driscoll (capt), Gavin Duffy, Tommy Bowe; Paddy Wallace, Isaac Boss; Bryan Young, Jerry Flannery, Simon Best, Paul O’Connell, Malcolm O’Kelly, Neil Best, Stephen Ferris, Jamie Heaslip.
Replacements used: Alan Quinlan for O’Kelly (9-12 mins, 24-33, half-time-59, blood sub), Andrew Trimble for Duffy (27), Keith Gleeson for Best (65), Ronan O’Gara for O’Driscoll (67), John Hayes for Young (71), Eoin Reddan for Boss, Rory Best for Flannery (both 75)
Scotland: Rory Lamont; Sean Lamont, Rob Dewey, Andrew Henderson, Simon Webster; Chris Paterson, Mike Blair; Allan Jacobsen, Ross Ford, Euan Murray, Nathan Hines, Jim Hamilton, Jason White (capt), Allister Hogg, Simon Taylor.
Replacements used: Kelly Brown for Taylor (39 mins), Fergus Thomson for Ford (40-44, blood sub), Craig Smith for Murray, Scott MacLeod for White (both 57), Nikki Walker for Dewey (61), Chris Cusiter for Blair, Dan Parks for Paterson (both 62), Ford for Hamilton (77)
The Mole has listed the teams from that encounter, our first warm-up game, to highlight the players who are still around and who will remind their respective colleagues of how fickle can be Lady Fortune. Assuming that Isaac Boss & Andrew Trimble get in, Ireland will have 7 out of 31 players, a very healthy 23%, to remind the Irish Squad of the importance of mindset. Those players won’t be alone. Needless to say, Joe Schmidt will have given this aspect considerable thought and will be watching around the world how other national head Coaches are dealing with the same challenge.
As we approach the key date of 31st August, by which time every country must name its 31-man World Cup squad, Ireland uniquely are the only team of the top fifteen in the world, who are unbeaten in their World Cup preparation period. Samoa suffered at the hands of New Zealand and the All Blacks went under to Australia, but both of these nations will be fairly satisfied with their preparations, notwithstanding these results.
This is probable not the case in England or Wales where coaches Lancaster and Gatland must be looking with some concern at the time left available for preparation and the tasks which have been uncovered.
So, here in Ireland what is the problem? That’s just it. What is the problem? Will Gatland’s Wales expose some critical weakness on Saturday? Will Ireland go to Twickenham on 5th September and be handed their heads on a platter? With Schmidt at the helm, neither of these possibilities appear likely prospects.
So, if we get past Twickenham on Saturday week, and facing the prospect of Canada and Romania as our first two RWC 2015 games, when will the Irish rugby public, or our Squad, really begin to experience the reality of Rugby World Cup 2015?
To provide some answer to that conundrum, let us revisit the question at the beginning. Supposedly, the originator of that most Irish of consolations was Axel Foley on the return of the Irish squad to Dublin in the last week of September 2007. In that typically Limerick idiom, Foley’s wry put-down served to commiserate, but not quite exonerate, anybody who had been part of the 2007 Squad. “Ye fu**ed up, but y’er not the only ones who’ve done that”.
During the course of less than 2 months from the beginning of August 2007 until the last weekend of September 2007, the Irish nation received its biggest sporting kick in the stomach since Saipan and the country was once again overcome by media exaggeration and speculation, led by our national broadcaster, which gyrated between conspiracy, complacency, or mere carelessness. Some of the comment was slanderous, some of it was ignorant, but the majority was just plain flummoxed.
Five years later, an excellent presentation in one of the Summer Schools postulated that the country had been well prepared for the crisis that was the Bank Guarantee of 30th September 2008, by the sporting events of Soccer World Cup 2002 and Rugby World Cup 2007. Both of these sporting disasters had proven that the Irish had a wonderful ability to exaggerate our expectations and an, almost British, appetite for expecting sporting success, where survival would be a more realistic achievement.
So what are the realistic prospects for Ireland in Rugby World Cup 2015?
It’s probably fair to say that we could scarcely have got a better draw. The composition of the four Pools are:
Pool A: Australia, England, Wales, Fiji, Uruguay
Pool B: South Africa, Samoa, Japan, Scotland, USA
Pool C: New Zealand, Argentina, Tonga, Georgia, Namibia
Pool D: France, Ireland, Italy, Canada, Romania
When you look at the order in which our Pool fixtures fall, Canada, Romania, Italy and France, it is hard to argue that Joe Schmidt could have done any better if he had been asked to arrange them himself. So, thus far, the odds are leaning a little in our favour. In years past, the Irish ambition in the Rugby World Cup has been to get out of our Pool. This we did in 2011 in New Zealand with a famous victory against Australia, only to trip up against old enemies Wales in the quarter-final.
This time around, the chiefs in the IRFU have talked themselves up to an (unrealistic) expectation of potential winners. At Mole Towers, we believe that Ireland can realistically plan to get to the Q/Final of the RWC and possibly, with Joe Schmidt in charge, a semi-final.
However, that is as far as we can go, under our own direction. We can go further, but now it takes luck, some screw-ups, or key injuries to opponents, or losses by higher-ranked teams. These are all factors outside of our control and that’s why we contend that Ireland cannot plan on these eventualities. We can however plan to take advantage of any such occurrences and no doubt this is exactly what Joe Schmidt and his team of coaches have been doing for the past 12 months.
Joe Schmidt: Head Coach
Les Kiss: Asst & Defence Coach
Simon Easterby: Forwards Coach
Greg Feek: Scrum Coach
Richie Murphy: Kicking Coach
Jason Cowman Fitness Coach
Mervyn Murphy Video Analyst
Vinny Hammond Performance Analyst
Michael Kearney Team Manager
There are more highly professional persons, many more, in the background of this Irish team but these are the guys who have prepared the plan and will continue to do so until RWC 2015 is completed. Players and others will execute, but these are guys who will think and argue and orchestrate and ultimate deliver the plan for the players to perform.
The core elements of whichever plan they choose for each game have already been laid down and rehearsed. In their Pool games against Canada, Romania and Italy, this Irish team will:
- play the majority of the game in their opponents half;
- will retain more than 65% possession;
- will dominate their opponents at scrum and line-outs;
- will kick for goal from any penalty within range;
- will miss very few tackles;
- will push-up defensively with a very aggressive tackle-line;
- will bring the ball back up-field from long kicks and look to counter-attack;
- will attack from multiple phases within their opponents 22m area;
- will use the lofted kick as a legitimate attacking option;
- will off-load passes in the tackle, notably to inside supporters;
- will be very disciplined at the breakdown and,
- will concede less penalties than their opponents.
Against France, these tactics may not be either appropriate, or adequate, to beat their opponents. Looking at the French performances against England in the past fortnight, it is realistic to presume that the French will not face any tougher games until they face Ireland on Sunday October 11th in Cardiff. Ireland will therefore probably face a French pack (Debaty, Kayser, Slimani, Maestri, Pape) who will attempt to attack us at scrum and line-out and make the breakdown a war-zone with Picamoles, Dusautoir and LeRoux seeking revenge for successive 6 Nations defeats.
However, Ireland should have the advantage at half-back and in the back-three. Michelak is a flaky selection, but his personality will probably result in his selection once he has made the panel. Huget looks a great winger in possession, but not as defender. Spedding is big, but nowhere as good a reader of Sexton’s kicking game, as Kearney is of that of Michelak or Tales.
So the French game will be a cat and mouse affair – but with huge cats and mice playing! Joe Schmidt was reputedly originally hired by Leinster because of his experience in beating French teams. He has proved that ability during his five year love-affair with Irish rugby and there’s no reason to suppose he will stop now.
Earlier, we posed the question as to what problems the Irish Squad face at present. Joe Public or even the rugby media-heads like Thornley, O’Reilly or Fanning are hinting at injury worries about Cian Healy and Andrew Trimble. The Indo is speculating about the selection of the 3rd scrum-half. The Examiner is worried whether Zebo could be left out. If these are the depth of the real concerns within the Irish camp, Schmidt will be very grateful.
Thus far, neither unrealistic expectation nor excessive worry have fogged up the windscreen in the Team Ireland bus. The Irish management will however have planned for when either of these eventualities arise. As the last World Cup was in New Zealand, social media did not have the same impact because of the time differences. However, this time around, expect the social media impact to grow significantly. Here is Mole Towers we have a pretty selective participation but many of the younger generation warn us that trolls and others will exploit the international interest in a sports event of this magnitude.
As the avid Irish supporter looks out over the coming weeks, these are some of the key events and dates for the mental calendar:
Wed to Sunday 20th August: Will St Joe pick a team to beat Wales or to confirm his Squad?
Mon 31st August: How could he have left out Zebo / Luke / Trims / Felix / Jordi / Tommy etc?
Thurs 3rd to Sun 6th Sept: Hope we don’t lose Henshaw / Paulie / Conor / Sexto / Cian against the Orcs.
Mon 7th to Thursday 17th Sept: Can’t believe the cost of trains between Birmingham / London / Bristol and Cardiff. We should have booked accommodation earlier.
Saturday 19th Sept: I wonder why Joe selected Reddan / McGrath / Strauss / Cave etc for this game? Is A N Other / S O Else, injured / dropped / disciplined? etc