Ireland’s ‘Golden generation’ have officially been knocked out of the world cup, and with it, all hopes of them fulfilling their potential have been washed away. However, Irish eyes aren’t burning too badly – John White gives an insight into why.
Firstly, I am a stauch Ireland supporter and revelled in their recent exploits in New Zealand. I didn’t have the opportunity to venture to New Zealand, but it sounds as if I wasn’t missed as the ‘Blarney Army’ made waves in The Land of the Long Cloud that will be remembered for many world cups to come. I’ve followed Ireland through the mediocrity (let’s not mention RWC 2007) and the highs (the Grand Slam and the victory over Australia to name but a few), however, I can’t bring myself to cast any aspersions, or point any fingers at any of the Irish team following our loss to Wales on Saturday. We lost to a better team on the day.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m absolutely gutted, and I do agree with Rory Best when he says that it was a ‘missed opportunity’ but there are a few points which also need to be underlined:
1. The value of experience is hugely important in international rugby, however, it’s the impetuousness of youth that has progressed and earned the biggest plaudits. The case in point is Wales and Australia, but most of the teams can point to the young players in their squad as the key performers. The Irish team have Sean O’Brien and Keith Earls for example. England have Manu Tuilagi. South Africa have James Hougaard. Scotland have Richie Gray. These guys are burdened with pressure and have subsequently excelled. Experience can win matches, but on the flip side, and I think this counts for Ireland, it’s always the same faces that the team turns to in times of need.
2. Irish experience steered us through the Australia game, but my feeling is that this victory was Ireland’s ‘final’. Every team has got one monumental performance in them, and unfortunately I think we peaked too early – we were like rabbits in the headlights against Wales, and it was clear that they simply wanted it more.
3. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. Ireland’s pre-tournament woes were seemingly cast aside following their topping of the pool, but their lack of momentum was very apparent and it cannot be underestimated how much this contributed to their early departure
4. Strength in depth is not something that Ireland do well. We need to introduce our young tyros into the national set-up so as to develop a pool of players to call on. Why not start to bring Ian Humphreys into the frey to provide competition to O’Gara and Sexton? Rhys Priestland was probably 4th or 5th choice Wales fly-half last year, now look at him. We’re also persisting with players like Denis Leamy – a great bloke and strong player, but why not bring in someone like Rhys Ruddock who will learn more and develop into a better player with more exposure to the top level. Why persist with players like Paddy Wallace and the evergreen Gordon D’Arcy? Let’s give some more game time to the likes of Fergus McFadden and Eoin O’Malley. The same can be said across most positions, and it’s only at scrum half that Declan Kidney has started to develop – with Conor Murray showing his pedigree.
Ireland’s World Cup was a success. We banished the ghosts of 2007. We showed that we can match and beat the southern hemisphere giants. However, those ‘what if’s’ are still lingering, and for players like Donncha O’Callaghan, Paul O’Connell and Brian O’Driscoll, those ‘what if’s’ will hang over them for the rest of their days.
by John White