You question everything after days like that.
Was the preparation right? Was the team selection correct? Was any stone left unturned? Were the heads right? So many questions, no single answer.
Chris Henry, in fairness, offered more than a few reasons for Ireland’s failure yesterday and it doesn’t make for pretty reading. Problems getting over the gain line. Difficulties at the breakdown. Failure to space themselves wide enough in defence. Inability, in general, to deal with Argentina’s wide game. Tie it all together and it amounts to a collective systems failure.
You look, too, at that first quarter when Argentina skipped out to a 17-0 lead and how Ireland were just blown away by the intensity and execution of the Pumas and you wonder how a team as good individually and collectively as Ireland could be blown away like that.
There was a widely-held belief around media circles in Cardiff all week that Ireland were in trouble due to their injuries, but that they would just have enough to get over Argentina. Was there some of that in their heads? Were they at the right pitch emotionally?
Whatever their mental state, Ireland started flat and paid for it.
“I don’t know. I don’t have the answer,” said Chris Henry. “I felt before the game that we were ready to go into the battle. But, as you said, we were flat. We weren’t hitting rucks like we were in the past… we didn’t think this was the end of the journey for us and it’s very tough to take.”
Iain Henderson chipped in with an observation about how the team’s indiscipline had also contributed to the defeat and he was one of a handful of players who referenced the absence of key players whilst simultaneously dismissing it as a reason for the reversal.
“You can use injuries as an excuse if you want, but we knew the bottom line before the tournament (was) that injuries happen to every team,” said the young Ulster lock-cum-flanker, who was hugely impressive in what was his first World Cup.
“It was disappointing that we couldn’t get more out of the players that stepped into those positions. Obviously (the injured players) were a massive loss given they are players in such key positions, but there’s no reason why we should look to use that as a reason.”
Other mitigating factors were ignored, chief among them the not inconsequential fact that Argentina had been able to field a second-string side in their final pool game last weekend while Ireland were at full throttle in attempting to overcome France.
Funny how that works now, isn’t it? When Ireland’s schedule was revealed and presented a staircase of difficulty starting with Canada and ending with France, the general impression was one of satisfaction, in that it would allow the side peak for the period that mattered most.
This was a tournament where everything seemed to be falling into place. Ireland had the right coach, the right captain, their best possible group of players and the experience and confidence built up through winning two straight Six Nations titles.
This was their big shot and they knew it, so you felt for them last night as they faced the music. How is the mood in the dressing room? What is your chief emotion right now? Where was it lost? Why was it lost? As if the passing of an hour after the final whistle would bring clarity or level emotions brought so low by such disappointment.
There is the imponderable, too: was this more or less hard to take than the quarter-final exit to Wales four years ago? Hard to say. Then, as now, Ireland approached the knockout stage with optimism after a rousing win over one of the game’s heavyweights.
Even with the injuries, there was a sense that a semi-final was within reach.
“That’s the thing that’s hardest to take,” said Henderson. “That’s why most people are disappointed. The boys that were here last time were in the same position after topping the group and losing a quarter-final that you were so confident going into.
“But we can learn from it, move on and look toward the Six Nations.” That’s four months from now. The next World Cup is four years. A long time to harbour regrets.
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