Ronan O'Gara: The big takeaway: This team needs new young blood

S OMETIMES the conclusions are the same at every level. In the coach’s box. In the tv studio. In the pub and at home with a cup of tea.
Ronan O'Gara: The big takeaway: This team needs new young blood
CIRCLE OF FRIENDS: The Sligo Grammar players celebrate their 22-14 win over CBS Roscommon in yesterday’s Connacht Schools Senior Cup semi-final. See page 5.             	Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy
CIRCLE OF FRIENDS: The Sligo Grammar players celebrate their 22-14 win over CBS Roscommon in yesterday’s Connacht Schools Senior Cup semi-final. See page 5. Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

SOMETIMES the conclusions are the same at every level. In the coach’s box. In the tv studio. In the pub and at home with a cup of tea.

Andy Farrell would have been on the same wavelength as a number of Ireland watchers watching the demolition at Twickenham last Sunday.

To paraphrase: We’re gonna have to change this up.

It reminded me of what the police chief said in Jaws when he saw the size of the killer shark terrifying the local beach: ‘We’re gonna need a bigger boat.’

I’ve been told I was momentarily stuck for words on the tv after the game. The silence was clocked at 5.4 seconds. I am friendly with a few of the players, only a few at this stage, but the pregnant pause last Sunday on the tv was because I didn’t know what point to jump off from. I wasn’t holding back. I was just shocked by what I saw.

What I didn’t want to say then was how much it looked like a mismatch from the first minute. And that should not happen. I am in the game, every day, and you put yourself in the players’ boots and the coaches’ shoes, and you still can’t get it straight in your head.

It’s very easy to point out what’s wrong all the time. England won the collisions and they were more dominant in the tackle, had a better kicking game and better variety, ra, ra ra.

The sports editor here once said to me ‘don’t tell the reader what happened, cos they know that — tell them how and why it happened’.

Ok, well the value of this column isn’t going to be enhanced by me saying I have moved on, but that is the brutal reality.

La Rochelle got a big win against Toulon last Saturday and this weekend we are back at my old friends in Racing 92 tomorrow.

I’ve got shit to shovel.

Except, Andy Farrell finds himself at a very interesting juncture now. He gave the benefit of the doubt to a lot of players in that squad who had had good days and mixed days while he was in the backroom.

But being out front is different, so different. And after last Sunday, there will be a cull.

Farrell might as well have been the fan with the scarf last Sunday.

He was thinking like everyone else — this team needs new young blood. That’s the big takeaway from Twickenham.

The Irish performance has drawn the line in the sand for Farrell. It has confirmed those haunting failures from the World Cup that he, and we, hoped was an aberration — albeit a serious one. Things happening on the margins might influence his thinking. The postponement of the Italy game is a blow on several levels and makes the trip to Paris more fraught for many reasons. But Farrell must also be keenly aware of what the U20s are doing. Another thumping win over England at Franklins’ Gardens last time out. Does that change his thinking in relation to working towards 2023?

I wrote here a few weeks ago that the new head coach was clearly looking at building a short-term win record, but the rush of reality Sunday was overpowering and impossible to ignore.

In almost all respects, this has crystallised things for the new management. It will now necessitate a change of course in terms of personnel.

ITALY at home tomorrow week should have been Andy Farrell’s prime opportunity to experiment. Blood some new talent. Put up a big score. Go to Paris with the championship on the line (PS: I expect Scotland to beat France at Murrayfield).

As I write, there’s no alternative schedule in the public domain, but it’s fairly locked that Ireland’s next Six Nations game is away to France.

Does Andy Farrell now go with John Cooney at nine? Presumably. The issue with Jonny Sexton is less about whether he should be captain and more that he doesn’t have Joey Carbery.

The loss of Carbery has been incalculable.

He is frustrated enough at the prospect of missing most of the season without me saying that 2020 was so ripe for him, but his presence would have served Jonny and Ireland well too. Maybe he can still get to Australia in the summer.

When we spoke of ‘bad‘ performances in 2019, it was on the basis of stagnation and excessive structure. There was no X factor. We complained quietly about being wedded to ‘an identity’.

But on Sunday Ireland were shapeless, rudderless, and they lost all the collisions. Structure isn’t all bad.

There are still some basic rugby sacreds.

Realistically, you’ve two phases to trigger momentum on the gainline. If you don’t win the first two collisions, it is going to be slow, static ball. At that moment, the defensive line is set so you are probably better off kicking but interestingly, there is now such an obsession with possession that nobody feels the need to apply a bit of pressure every now and then.

When the running option isn’t there, you’ve got to turn them with a kicking game.

We don’t kick for territory anymore. Field position is huge. When was it ever different? I get that when you are so under the pump, the brain goes into freeze mode. But the top players invariably manage to work their way out of the jungle.

All of this would have been fed into the prep for the Italy game tomorrow week, but the uncertainty at the postponement is only exceeded by the frustration. This is a nightmare development for Farrell. But it was interesting and encouraging to hear him say he would also take a good look and himself and how he prepped the squad for Twickenham. It was only a snapshot but watching the Ireland group arriving at the ground, I was taken by how relaxed some of them seemed to be. I am all for people being chilled and being themselves but I haven’t seen many Irish sides with smiles on their faces going into Twickenham.

With the bonus-point win over Wales in their back pockets, I wonder were some boys in green just a little bit off mentally?

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