Youth and inexperience may act as buffers against the worst strains of criticism in most walks of life, but not in rugby. Not in an arena where the only numbers that matter are those on your back.
No accommodation is made for tender years and lack of caps on the pitch and the same applies off it when players still consumed by a crushing defeat are lassoed into duties which inevitably exacerbate the pain.
So it was that Joe Schmidt’s men found themselves pointed in various directions around the Aiva Stadium on Saturday night as thousands of punters were already flushing the defeat from their veins.
Some players found themselves engaged in small talk with sponsors and their guests, as part of the bargain sport makes with commercialism. Others were landed with the even more painful job of explaining this 17-point defeat to a media intent on asking painful questions.
Among those fronting up for the latter was Luke Marshall, the baby of the group who acquitted himself admirably on both sides of the whitewash, even allowing for the pup he was sold by Quade Cooper for Australia’s third try.
Marshall had no hesitation accepting his culpability for a score that blew the doors off the game from an Irish perspective but he is hardly the first player to be so deceived by Cooper and Schmidt seems to have told him as much.
“He came over to me straight away after in the changing room and said it was just one of those things and that I have to move on,” said the 22-year old. “It’s Test rugby and one mistake can sometimes cost a try.
“But I appreciated him coming over. He did understand and it’s nice to have that backing.”
Team manager Mick Kearney said there had been no talk of the 2015 World Cup prior to the opening game against Samoa, but Marshall’s presence in the 15 against the Wallabies was proof that this coaching ticket is thinking long-term.
Scouring the chat rooms afterwards, it was obvious there is a body of opinion out there that believes Schmidt should go further now and eject a number of more senior statesmen and give the next generation — all of it — its fling. Such alarm is understandable given the optimism that preceded this November Series, but wholesale change is as unlikely as it would be unproductive and Marshall spoke of a dressing room confident this was not as seminal a defeat as it seemed.
“I think [players] said there were a couple of mistakes. We gave them soft tries and that gave them confidence. It probably flattered them a bit. I don’t think they were worth the margin of victory.
“We knew coming off the pitch that we should have done better and we’re better players than we showed.
“But there were still positives to be taken out of the game, there were a few line breaks and that’s quite pleasing against a team like Australia.”
Marshall was one of those to find open space behind the Aussie defensive line only to be swallowed up before the damage could have been exacerbated, but reckoned 65 minutes passed before he got to take the ball into contact.
Such a statistic is unheard-of for an inside-centre in modern rugby but indicative of the fact Ireland were deprived an attacking platform by an Australian pack that dominated the set-piece and in the loose too.
Mike Ross, another of those to draw the short straw for mixed zone duties, took issue with some of the decisions that went against them at the scrum but accepted today’s video session would not make for pretty viewing.
Schmidt’s observations are never less than bald, if honest, and the Leinster tight head accepted there would be “no room for argument” as they face into the visit of the All Blacks. Marshall echoed that.
“There’s no point in just making excuses, you’re not going to learn and improve if you do that. Sometimes you have to put your hand up and take responsibility for your mistakes and your actions.
“We’re a pretty good group of guys. We can do that and we will stand up for each other as well — we’ll put our hands up for our mistakes but we’re all together and we’ll move forward from it.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved