Lots of excuses were forthcoming from the Irish camp after last Saturdays defeat to France but a critical appraisal closer to home will show a profligate waste of chances cost Ireland victory
by Phil Rice
One of the characteristics of Ireland’s recent Six Nations Championship wins was the clinical nature of their point scoring.
When they got into scoring positions they invariably came away with points, through whatever means was necessary.
For the first 20 minutes against Wales the previous week, they resumed this pattern but from that point onwards they have spurned chance after chance.
On Saturday they were offered kickable penalties when they were dominating the game, but decided to go for the corner and wasted the scoring opportunity.
With conditions as tricky as they were, the game was destined to be low scoring and Ireland needed to take every opportunity offered. It’s likely in the same circumstances that Paul O’Connell would have pointed to the posts.
Posting the score on the board puts pressure on the opposition, particularly in Paris where the home fans are renowned for turning on the home team. It also gives you an element of control of the match and prevents the panicky passing and handling errors that we saw at the weekend.
France were low on confidence after undeservedly beating Italy the previous weekend but Ireland failed to put away the chances that would have put a two score margin between the teams.
Had they done so it is likely that France would have panicked and the crowd would have got on their backs.
This year’s championship looks like being a very close affair with Ireland only having an adverse points difference of one against them, yet only one championship point to show for their efforts after two games, both of which could and probably should have been won.
After the game Joe Schmidt criticised the referee for the cheap shots that France got away with. You couldn’t help thinking that Peter O’Mahony, Paulie, Cian Healy or even Sean O’Brien, had he stayed, would have sorted it out on the field.
France were far more streetwise at the weekend and took advantage of the laxity of the officials, instead of moaning about it.
Once replacement props Slimani and Ben Arous took the field the Irish scrummage was always going to struggle in the absence of Mike Ross.
Ireland needed to be well clear at that stage instead of being within one score.
Andrew Trimble was more on point with his reflection on proceedings, “It was criminal getting inside their 22 as often as we did and fail come away with points.” He added, “ A lot of us have to hold our hands up and say we probably didn’t look after the ball as well as we should have.”
It is a concern that Ireland failed to carry out the basics with the necessary precision against a poor French team, it won’t be any easier next week at Twickenham.
On the positive side CJ Stander put in another excellent performance. He may not carry the ball great distances but he invariably got over the gainline and set up quality possession that wasn’t always used to best effect.
Jared Payne played with great intelligence and bravely played out the final 30 minutes with a dead leg.
The introduction of Ross to the front row will help to stabilise the scrum against England. But it is unlikely that O’Brien will be fit and he will be a big loss.
The hallmarks of Ireland’s successes last season were the carries from O’Brien, O’Connell and the much missed Henderson.
Schmidt may recall the now fit Chris Henry, his abrasive defence will be needed against the powerful English team.
At this stage it is a case of damage limitation. There will always be excuses for failure but a more positive attitude and focus is required to get the show back on the road. This is still a talented group of players but we have only seen glimpses of their potential in the first two matches of the Championship.
Some folks are calling for wholesale changes and the introduction of some of the promising youngsters.
Twickenham has proved a graveyard for promising Irish players over the years and Eddie Jones would be licking his lips if he thought we were going to blood youngsters against his muscular, if limited team.
Ireland have not become a bad team over night, despite the enforced absence of key players through injury.
There has been enough quality play from the team to suggest that with attention to basics and better game management on the pitch, three wins in the remaining games is not beyond them.