by Conor O'Shea
A coach’s life is a difficult one. There’s so much preparation and attention to detail but come match day it is left to the players. So it was again. England talked about addressing their discipline but surely their coaching team will think twice before berating the officials in the lead up to games in future. The coaches by their words reinforced the perceived right the English players have to question and feel aggrieved.
So when their coaches debrief and have a go at two more yellow cards (10 in their last 4 games) they will need to take a look at themselves . Yes, England may be refereed more strictly than others but if you antagonise officials well, you will reap what you sow. The yellow cards and the rest of their catalogue of penalties would have yielded a more comfortable Irish victory if Ronan O’Gara had kicked like his normal self. We are all entitled to an off day and O’Gara’s off day didn’t count against his team.
Ireland and England: coaching contrast
Why would I mention the England coaching staff before praising Ireland’s winning performance? The simple fact is that Declan Kidney in his own understated way has never made those mistakes throughout his career and his post match interview, straight from the heat of battle, sums him up. Despite having little time to reflect he praised England, thanked the GAA, talked up Scotland and didn’t avoid O’Gara’s off day but questioned why others were not following up on the kick chase when the ball rebounded off the wood work.
He is quite brilliant in this regard, Kidney never gets ahead of himself and neither will his team. Take Luke Fitzgerald, who is not just playing like an old pro but is obviously learning the Kidney way and talking like an old pro in his interviews too.
Brian O'Driscoll - Ireland's star man
The match itself never had the style of the France game but it was good old fashioned Test match rugby, played with an intensity and physicality that was at times frightening. No player performed better in this regard than Ireland’s captain Brian O’Driscoll – how he stayed on the pitch given the battering he took we will never know but he kept on putting his hand up when it counted and his team needed him. Sometimes you don’t appreciate what you’ve got till it’s gone and when he goes (maybe after the next RWC) we will have a void to fill, no matter who we feel we have coming through that will be nigh on impossible to fill. We are in the presence of greatness, end of story.
Declan Kidney and Brian O’Driscoll will rightly say that this was no one man show; that every man played their part. The back three of Rob Kearney, Tommy Bowe and Luke Fitzgerald keep getting better and although I am sure Bowe will have better fielding days ahead of him, both he and Fitzgerald have speed allied to an added dimension of physicality in defence that mark them apart. For Kearney he, barring injury, is head to head with Lee Byrne for the full back role with the Lions. He has it all and with Kidney guiding him and old hands like O’Driscoll, Paul O’Connell and O’Gara around he will learn how to keep his feet on the ground despite the attention and acclaim.
I could go through each player and praise them. True some will say this was not a great game of rugby but that is to miss the essence of the nature of some games; Test match rugby can’t all be Barbarian style games. Every game involving France this year has seen good rugby because of the way France approach the game. France open up and play so it allows others to open up too – even Scotland!
Defence limited Ireland in war of attrition
England’s defence, under Mike Ford, is good and doesn’t allow you much room so they are difficult to play and their games can become attritional. Ireland went toe to toe with them and won. I am sure if the points went up through Ronan’s kicking then England would have been forced to play more and we would have seen more rugby, they didn’t so the game remained close with no quarter given or taken.
Records are hard to break, as Ronan O’Gara knows as he prepares to take over from Johnny Wilkinson as the all time leading points scorer in Five / Six Nations history. It's also worth remembering that we have only one Grand Slam in our history so winning one is not meant to be easy. It involves winning the games of aesthetic beauty like against France and the full on intensity Tests like this weekend’s match.
Scotland: the next hurdle
It will also involve winning against Scotland, which is what has to happen before we starting thinking of the dream finale in Cardiff. I have been saying for a while now that we have to beware the Scots and despite their abject winning performance against Italy they will be ready to mug us in Murrayfield. I am relieved it is Declan Kidney in charge for the fact he won’t let the players buy into the hype until the job is done.
'I have never met a soft Scotsman.......'; The Kidney mind games begin.
But for the moment, let’s bask in the afterglow of this victory. Enjoy it for a few days and we can come back to Scotland later. This Irish team and management have made us all proud and given everyone in pretty dark times the lift we all needed.
Thanks guys, and remember that you have done too much hard work over the years to let this opportunity slip.