“We’re a good team when we play” – Brian O’Driscoll
I don’t want to become one of those critics who find fault with every single Irish performance but frustration is the overriding emotion right now. That was an immense effort from our lads and we came so close to our greatest ever result. There were technical elements that let us down (as well as some easy penalties in the first-half), but there were multiple positives too. The desire and intensity was incredible, and we attacked at a much higher tempo than we have done for a long time. But today’s game simply poses the question of why this type of Irish performance is so rare?
From the first minute, Ireland’s physicality was through the roof. Every single player threw himself into collisions again and again. Gone was the respect for the mighty and unbeatable All Blacks. This was just plain old New Zealand. During the week, Dan Carter claimed that Ireland were always “ferocious” opponents. We didn’t see that last weekend, but it was evident today. Once again, we dominated the breakdown. Most welcome of all was how we got on top in the scrum in the second-half. All huge positives, and part of a strong display overall.
It reminded me of the Rugby World Cup win over Australia last year, and the big win over England in the 2011 Six Nations. It could be argued that these three games were Ireland’s only three strong showings in the last couple of years. Why are they so rare? Why can Ireland not motivate themselves to this degree more regularly? If we could match today’s level of intensity and physicality more often, we’d be a truly successful international team. The quote from Brian O’Driscoll immediately after the game says it all. Ireland need to work out a way to “play” more consistently.
It might seem particularly harsh to be critical in the aftermath of such a narrow loss to the best team in the world. On Thursday night, Roy Keane blasted the Irish soccer team for their losing mentality. He was critical of the fact that Irish fans were singing and supporting, even at 4-0 down. I don’t want it to come across that I’m doing something similar here. It’s a very different scenario. While Ireland doesn’t have players with enough quality to get anywhere near the world’s best in soccer, we do in rugby. Today was the very proof of that.
O’Driscoll and his team mates certainly won’t be accepting of this loss. They will analyse it and dissect it on Monday morning. They’ll look at the dropped balls, lineout misses, and the number of visits to the New Zealand 22 which brought no points. The provincial success of first Munster, and now Leinster, has given this Irish squad a winning mentality. They will be critical of themselves and look to improve next weekend. So why should us supporters and critics not look for more too? We should certainly praise the many positives in today’s display, but equally we should question why we don’t see them more often.
I’ll try to do some of that analysis myself on Monday morning, looking at the strengths and positives, as well as the areas where Ireland can improve. Watch this space.