‘When you give yourself a 20-point lead you’d like to think you can hold on to it’

Aaron Cruden was still standing over his first attempt at what would ultimately be the match-winning conversion, but Gordon D’Arcy was already peeling the strapping from his wrists. Draw or lose, at that stage it mattered little.

The win had gone. Slipped into the ether like a whisper in the wind.

When Ryan Crotty touched down in injury-time to bring the scores level the worth of everything Ireland had achieved in the 80 minutes that preceded it devalued like a Weimar banknote. You can be sure that Joe Schmidt and his boys will harvest a ton of good from this, but only in time. For now, the pain is too raw to find succour in the memories or DVDs that bear witness to three tries or the succession of punishing hits.

Scrambling for thoughts when a summation was sought D’Arcy said: “There’s a few things that didn’t go our way in the second half but you give yourself a 20-point lead you’d like to think you can hold on to it.”

That’s D’Arcy. Sugar isn’t something he coats words with.

Last Friday, he had been offered up for media duties on his return to the team after the rotation/demotion of last week’s meeting with the Wallabies and he had spoken plainly about the need to win and not just perform.

He could have been forgiven for taking a different view last night.

Fourteen years on from his debut and nine since he was born again as the centre, he responded with a display for the ages and one that gave the lie to suggestions that he should be traded in with all possible haste for a younger model.

Not a chance. Solace went unsought.

“I don’t want to show up and lose by two points to the All Blacks,” he insisted. “That’s not what I’m here for. I’m here to beat that team and we should have beaten that team but we didn’t.

“We have to pick ourselves up and we’ve got to take all the positives we can and build from that. We’ve got to take it on and use that as the base and really smash teams in the Six Nations.”

Starting with Scotland. And that’s where you begin to wonder about this Irish team. Again. More and more, they seem to only really bare their teeth when backed into a corner and with little alternative left but to fight.

Irish refusing to take moral victories

The intensity and anger that delivered three tries in the first 18 minutes aren’t exactly attributes that can be easily replicated but D’Arcy believes a standard has been set that cannot be compromised.

“Absolutely, that’s the benchmark now for Ireland if everybody’s talking about ‘can we kick on?’ Is it okay to lose so valiantly? Only if we build on this. We’ve an opportunity for a Six Nations [title] but only if we build on this. If we don’t, we’re essentially peeing into the wind.”

It was a brutally honest appraisal but not one delivered in isolation. D’Arcy had held court just minutes after Sean O’Brien had shared his thoughts with an expression that made him a contender for the most disconsolate man of the match in history.

“I think lads will have to have a good look at their game and assess were they are and what we did well and what we didn’t do so well,” said the devastating flanker. “We can improve on that performance today.

“We were annoyed after last week. It’s time lads grew up and know what’s expected of them when they put on an Irish jersey. That performance today we can be proud of but it still wasn’t good enough.”

O’Brien, like more of his colleagues, wondered aloud about the 30 seconds or less that were left when they coughed up that penalty just inside the tourists’ half.

“Yeah, I’d say I’m angry. We should have trusted each other there in the last couple of minutes. Not getting set early enough, not coming off the line on him again. We just needed to want it that little bit more for the last few minutes.

“That’s where you should be trying even harder. I’d say a lot of the lads will be angry with the way it finished.”


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