The manner of Ireland’s World Cup exit was so bad on so many levels

The manner of Ireland’s World Cup exit was so bad on so many levels

That Ireland could lose a World Cup quarter-final to the All Blacks is not a major shock in itself. New Zealand just have better cattle, as I said in last week’s column. However, the manner of the loss, even at a remove now of five days, was utterly shocking.

We are further away from a World Cup semi-final now than we were in 2011.

The importance of perspective is paramount, but this was the sort of World Cup for Ireland that demands a complete rethink of how we prioritise, periodise and prepare. It isn’t just one thing here — it’s a complete re-evaluation in my book.

For starters: do we want to be judged on World Cups or championships? We admired the Ireland team greatly over a recent period, but all the while other nations — primarily Wales and England — were preparing for a World Cup.

Surely for Ireland to be a credible top tier nation, we have to be judged on the World Cup? Look at the semi-finalists.

The next World Cup in France may be four years away but there’s no point winning Grand Slams and Six Nations in the interim unless they are achieved in tandem with the three P’s I’ve mentioned.

Of course, we all live in the now and we are firmer in our convictions with the benefit of hindsight. And judging Ireland on the basis of beating New Zealand almost a year ago was fine last November.

Similarly, we have to judge Ireland in the here and now — when it matters most.

And in that regard we are further away by every metric from the last four of the World Cup.

The manner of Ireland’s World Cup exit was so bad on so many levels

I got great advice when I retired. Thinking I might have accumulated a decent body of work over a decade and more, someone offered me a sage counterpoint: Rog, you’ll be remembered for your last three games.

Joe Schmidt has been up around a 75% win rate but the taste of disappointment overpowers everything at the moment.

Ireland have had winning Six Nations campaigns, but it’s clear to me that Wales and England look to Six Nations as a means to an end — the end being the World Cup.

If we started well in Japan against Scotland, the wheels came off on the second weekend against the hosts.

My contention is that the issues were worryingly evident long before that and if I was guilty of anything as a supporter, it was wishing away the problems of the warm-ups on the basis of ‘No, it couldn’t happen again in a World Cup’.

The England game, in particular, at Twickenham, gave me that sick sensation in the pit of my stomach. It was the reason I indicated that for the Wales warm-up, a win was more important than a performance.

If that seems odd to say about a warm-up, it betrayed my own subconscious concerns. Twickenham was a grim portent. You knew there was a problem, irrespective of what was in the players’ legs or not.

That day showed to me that there was a rugby issue.

The manner of Ireland’s World Cup exit was so bad on so many levels

En route to Japan this week, I did a bit of mathematics on the game minutes of Ireland’s 9, 10 and 12 compared to New Zealand’s. It doesn’t stack up well.

The three Irish lads were rusty while Richie Mo’unga, to mention just one I am familiar with in terms of workload, has been on the go since last January.

I am convinced more than ever we have got to the stage where our players are under-rugbyed (is that a word?).

The local derbies are gone, and with them the bite; the national team has become a disproportionate priority, so where’s the hardness in our players, that durability from playing in real games? There’s no PRO14 relegation, there’s no Six Nations relegation and if someone throws at me ‘neither has New Zealand or Super Rugby’, NZ are streets ahead in their mental as well as physical preparation.

Many noted Steve Hansen’s comment after the game about relative ‘experience’ but fewer commented on remarks by All Blacks in the build-up about how important their mental tune-up was.

You’d have to question the non-selection of form players in the quarter-final — the likes of Jordan Larmour, Andrew Conway and Chris Farrell, all of whom were going really well. Momentum is a big thing, that’s something we have learned.

Robbie Henshaw’s failure to ground a ball for a try was an unfortunate metaphor for Ireland in that quarter final — undercooked and not up to speed.

There was nothing instinctive about Ireland; compare it to Mo’unga, whose rugby brain was something you’d associate with an out-half with 50 caps.

We have rightly praised Joe Schmidt and Ireland for what they have achieved over the past few years — and for what Joe did at Leinster before that.

Now they deserve constructive criticism. Some of the journalists feed this sense that we are better than we actually are.

I read James Ryan got a 7/10 somewhere for his World Cup.

I presume that was in an Irish context because if it’s in relation to the World Cup as a whole, what does it say about an All Black who might actually win the World Cup and get the same rating from a more balanced assessment?

The manner of Ireland’s World Cup exit was so bad on so many levels

I don’t say it lightly, but it looked like the All Blacks were playing a different sport to Ireland.

And yet they would probably rate themselves as 8.5 out of ten. You will get a nine for the semi-final tomorrow.

They have an innate capacity to build for when the moment requires.

This is damaging for everyone associated with Irish rugby, and I say that as a big fan.

I could even see my own players at La Rochelle coming in on Saturday afternoon and looking at me in an odd sort of way that said: I thought ye Irish guys were meant to be good at rugby? ‘Like how am I meant to take your message seriously’ was the subconscious vibe I was getting from them.

Perception is everything and the perception was awful. There is a massive job to be done now, but it might help Andy Farrell, not stymie him.

We had built up a lot of players to world class status without them ever really getting there. For me, world class status is the top three in your position in the world.

The manner of Ireland’s World Cup exit was so bad on so many levels

Do Ireland have that? On current form, perhaps Tadhg Furlong and James Ryan. Our half-backs were not in world-class form in Japan and there was no one else you’d consider.

We throw around that stuff way too easily. We are judging players on a Heineken Cup, or even a Grand Slam, when it seems to me that others are busier peaking for Rugby World Cups.

Getting into the minutiae of the 80 minutes serves no purpose at this remove. It was an odd and rare sensation watching your country against a group of players you have just finished coaching.

I genuinely thought Ireland would trade blows for 30 minutes even if I feared the prize herd was in black.

England’s semi-final selection has made my mind up that the All Blacks won’t be stopped from reaching a third successive final. The opportunities New Zealand will have with George Ford at 10 will be too rich for them to pass up. Irrespective where Eddie Jones tries to hide the Leicester 10 in the defensive set up, the All Blacks will find it.

Owen Farrell is a proper player and I like him at ten. NZ respect him there, and the balance was perfect with Slade at 13, Tuilagi at 12.

Clearly England management believe they can run the All Blacks around the pitch, employ two receivers and fire May and Daly at them. To score 40-odd points against the Wallabies was a statement win and for sure, Ford has developed his game, but it’s just a different body in front of you when it’s him and not Farrell.

Instead of asking questions of the All Blacks, England have drawn a map for them.

With Scott Barrett’s inclusion, there are nine Crusaders starting for the All Blacks tomorrow. I’m not so sure that the Leinster v Crusaders question holds as much water now.

Anyway, New Zealand v South Africa final for me.

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