How, and why, everything changes in a single week

The sports editor has an interesting habit of framing questions to me in the context of ‘marks out of 10’. So, when he texted me to ask ‘accuracy marks out of 10 for that L’Equipe story’, I gave it a three.

How, and why, everything changes in a single week

The sports editor has an interesting habit of framing questions to me in the context of ‘marks out of 10’. So, when he texted me to ask ‘accuracy marks out of 10 for that L’Equipe story’, I gave it a three.

UNITED IN GRIEF: Mourners pay their respects to the victims of last Friday’s attacks on two mosques in Christchurch. Fifty people were killed while dozens are still injured in hospital after a gunman opened fire. The attack is the worst mass shooting in New Zealand’s history. Picture: Getty Images.
UNITED IN GRIEF: Mourners pay their respects to the victims of last Friday’s attacks on two mosques in Christchurch. Fifty people were killed while dozens are still injured in hospital after a gunman opened fire. The attack is the worst mass shooting in New Zealand’s history. Picture: Getty Images.

Honestly, we’ve had more pressing matters to digest down here. In a week when the funerals of the mosque massacre have been taking place, our family drove down to that area yesterday, or as close as the cordon will permit, and saw the extent of the floral outpouring of emotion in the wake of the barbarism.

Has the massacre even registered with us? I’m not sure. Do we subconsciously try to move into mental spaces where it isn’t impinging on our every thought? Is that just a human defence mechanism? I think so. When we drove towards the museum to the area where the bank of television cameras was set up, only then does the awfulness of the whole thing erupt again.

I’m from Cork, and when I imagine the nightmare of something like this happening in Douglas or Blarney, then I have a proper sense, if not understanding, of what our local lads are going through.

They have a lot of stages to get through on this. The discussion on a name change for the Crusaders is very real and has been elevated to parliamentary level in New Zealand. From my understanding there are two distinct interpretations of the Crusaders name, the first only reverting to the beginning of the professional era in rugby, but the other is a throwback to the Crusades and the religious wars between the Christians and the Muslims.

Obviously, what happened here in Christchurch last week has altered the landscape utterly, but it’s not a decision for now when everything is still so raw.

I don’t think it will ever be ok, but it’s a process. It was beyond barbaric. Certain media outlets too should be hanging their heads in shame for decisions to post video of the shootings on their website for clicks. Surely there are better ways of preserving media relevance than this? And surely there should be some prosecution of these actions?

There is an opportunity to change behaviours and guidelines in this area with a strong legislative reaction to this episode, which I found despicable.

The suggestion I could be part of a France World Cup effort came completely out of the blue, and I mean completely.

Accuracy is something I try to adhere to in these columns, so in concrete terms, there is zero truth in it if your benchmark for that is firm contact. But as I have found out, it’s the way of things that something could come of it, I honestly don’t know.

That’s why it’s a 3/10.

I don’t want to say something now that will be undermined come the summer.

The Crusaders play the Waratahs at the Sydney Cricket Ground tomorrow night and next Friday we play the Hurricanes. When you are operating in an elite environment like the Crusaders, July seems a lifetime away.

After the three-hour flight to a sweaty and muggy Sydney Thursday, I made for a little man-made inlet I discovered last year on Coogee beach.

I was in the sea at 8pm with my thoughts, reflecting how everything in Christchurch had changed utterly in the space of a week. After our game with the Highlanders was (correctly) cancelled, we got a bus back from Dunedin, arriving home in Christchurch for around 10pm Saturday night.

I set the alarm for 3.44am, but within an hour of going to bed, I started thinking about all the curiosities of Italy and France.

Couldn’t get it out of the head, so up with a cup of tea to watch Italy throw away a proper Six Nations winning opportunity.

My mother and father, who were staying with us, must have heard me, and soon we were all perched on the sofa. In the middle of the night with the curtains pulled, we watched, in surreal disbelief, as Wales dismantled Ireland from the first minute in

Cardiff.

I was settled in for a cat and mouse opening 15 minutes and then Gareth Anscombe kicked beautifully over the top to set the tone for a disastrous watching experience. More than once, in the dead of night in Christchurch a world away, you were left thinking, is this actually happening?

There are very intelligent people on that Ireland management ticket and one presumes there were good reasons for leaving the Principality Stadium roof open for the game, certainly more substantive than ‘if Gatland says white, Ireland says black’.

Because Ireland are normally so accurate with their possession game, handling etc, it didn’t stack up for me. Wales were out early last week to say they wanted the roof closed, and unless you are that fly on the wall in the Irish management meeting you don’t know what influence, if any, that had on the Irish decision.

The Irish performance was seriously below par but that cannot obscure the fact there are good people in that room. You are not dealing with oddballs here. I was on tour with them. It’s a very good coaching ticket and I am not going bashing them here.

It was a championship where we formed, then changed, opinions within games. Not even game-by-game — more half-by-half. Scotland only won one game, but their players will return to their Champions Cup efforts in Edinburgh and Glasgow with a skip in their step after an extraordinary second half at Twickenham last Saturday.

They delivered the best 40 minutes I have seen from a Scottish side in years.

You’ll make the argument England took their foot off the gas, but I thought there was something more here. With the way rugby has changed, sides can accumulate 14 points in a hurry, and without serious pressure or territory.

You could also see England literally crumble under the Scottish intensity, and the wonder is that Scotland even conceded an injury-time try under the sticks to level it at 38-38. Yes, George Ford took a great gap, but the most interesting thing was Eddie Jones taking off Owen Farrell with eight minutes to go, sending a message that he is not slow, or afraid, to make the hard calls.

Scotland’s 40 minutes, irrespective of what they did for the other four and a half games, has framed their tournament and leaves them buzzing.

They will now bring a serious appetite to their pre-World Cup preparations and will hit the ground running in Japan. In a one-off game in the World Cup opener they will absolutely believe now they can pick Ireland off.

For England, the jury remains out. Their best evening by a mile was in Dublin but they came nowhere near those heights afterwards, the first 40 last Saturday obliterated by what came after.

Joe Schmidt is left thinking how am I going to kickstart this, and who is going to help me do it? What will frustrate him is that of all his Ireland leaders, none bar James Ryan put up their hand in Cardiff.

Stuff happens, but a lot of his leaders are now the elder statesmen in the set-up. When things are going swimmingly, people refer to the experience and nous of those lads. When they turn bad, people start examining birth certs and how many of them are over 30. Best, Sexton, O’Mahony, Kearney.

Murray is 30 in April. Ireland will start working towards a better age balance in that regard come 2020.

They will attack the warm-up matches but now Ireland needs those August games to go well now. The margin for experimentation is less because the performances must be good. The reservoir of confidence is a lot shallower now than it was at the tail end of 2018.

The real competitors know they need to produce. There is not only a real anxiety now they could be whipped off in games.

As a result of this Six Nations, there will be a renewed anticipation, excitement, and nervousness in the Irish camp when they reconvene. It’s an unlikely upside of a bad tournament.

What names will be on the overhead projector come camp time, and in what order? You can’t say anymore that it’s easy to roll the Irish team off your tongue. That’s a good thing.

It opens some doors again.

I met Tyler Bleyendaal in Christchurch last week, and he certainly gave me the impression he is looking to get a crack at Ireland.

The difficulty for him, now that he’s fit, is that Joey Carbery will be looking for big minutes with Munster when he returns from injury.

But certainly, lads on the outside scent an opportunity again.

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