Master Schmidt’s second day in big school and it will not prove edifying. A host of lessons await, among them ones in maths, logic and biology.
Logic because common sense says that a team just finishing their season, like Australia, will be more hardened than a team just starting theirs, like Ireland, with Conor O’Shea rightly pooh-poohing Tom McGurk’s hopeful suggestion that Australia might be tired. Professionals, he emphasises, don’t get tired.
Maths because two and two, of the kind outlined just there now, makes four. And biology because the conversation soon takes a hand brake turn into the area of bodily fluids and suchlike. Yes, really.
How are we going to beat Australia, Tom continues? “We have to drain the living daylights out of them,” says Conor, betraying more than a passing knowledge of Bram Stoker’s oeuvre. Heaven forbid this column ever ends up at a dinner party next to Conor, normally such a pleasant, lucid and engaging man. We’ll make sure to sit a few seats away from him, just in case the steak isn’t done rare enough for his liking. Dracula was probably a pleasant, lucid and engaging guest on Transylvanian TV panels too in his day.
Brent Pope pops up on the sideline to interview Ronan O’Gara, back from the land of very rare steak and assuring us that Jonny Sexton is “in a good place”. Back to Conor, who asserts that if Ireland are to win, the pack have “absolutely to squeeze the living daylights” out of the Aussies. This is getting scarier by the minute. Scrap the earlier notion of giving him a wide berth at that putative dinner party; I’ll be going the whole hog and staying in to wash my hair that night.
Then away they go and the more hardened team stroll in down the left flank for two tries in the space of six first-half minutes, an occurrence Ryle Nugent hails for some reason best known to himself as “not in the script”. Soon Ireland are unarmed against a sea of troubles. Sexton has departed injured to a bad place, and not Tallaght either. The scrum is similarly hamstrung. The line speed is not what it should be. “Undercooked” is Ralph Keyes’s word for them.
Shane Horgan identifies the problem, or at any rate one of the foremost of Ireland’s many problems, as the manner in which they’re being exploited on the inside shoulder and on the outside shoulder. If that’s a bit too esoteric for you, fear not; George Hook descends from Mount Sinai to demystify things for the common or garden viewer, analysing the second Aussie try as “yer man just walks through an Irish defender”. You could actually have done that yourself, couldn’t you? The analysis, that is, not the Aussie try, but come to think of it, given that Ireland’s defending is so poor...
Nor is George about to let Pollyanna Nugent away with his “not in the script” line. “I don’t believe this ‘wasn’t in the script’. I think it was absolutely in the script... everything we said before this match that if it happened, we’d be in trouble — and it has come to pass.” Sure has, and it’s only going to get worse.
By the final whistle, Ireland’s living daylights have long since been drained out of them, then squeezed out of them, then consigned to a shallow grave. Ronan O’Gara, at pitchside, identifies a worrying lack of positive body language, instanced by the total lack of reaction to the spear tackle on Peter O’Mahony. In my day, he announces, the offending Aussie “would have got his head knocked off”. But he’s determined to keep matters in perspective. “You have to persevere with these guys. They are the best we have at club level.” And: “The team isn’t established. In six months’ time we’ll be better for it.”
Problem is, there’s one small blot on the horizon and it’s shaped like a silver fern. New Zealand are in town next weekend. The best Brent Pope can manage is to summon some wry humour. “I wouldn’t be too worried about it.” Ah yes, when all else fails, keep calm and lodge your tongue firmly in cheek.
If Ireland have any living daylights remaining, they are entitled to be very worried indeed.
Dracula wore all black too, didn’t he?
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