by Frank Schnittger
Tue Oct 22nd, 2019 at 10:02:11 AM EST
I am, for my sins, also a moderator of the Irish Rugby Fan forum which is a closed Facebook group with over 23,000 members and dozens of new membership applications every day. If only we had similar numbers here!
Every now and then I post a blog trying to summarise a week-end's play or otherwise editorialise on the going's on in a particular match. Today's post is a requiem for Ireland's underwhelming performance in, and exit at the quarter-final stage from the World Cup taking place in Japan right now.
For family reasons I have had very little time for watching TV or blogging on any topic right now so the post is restricted to Ireland's matches as I have been unable to watch any of the others.
Ireland went into the World Cup ranked, very briefly, at no. 1 in the world, but that was never a realistic assessment of our recent form. Our current ranking of 5th. in the World is probably about right, and not bad for a small country where rugby is the third or fourth most popular sport behind Gaelic Football, Soccer, and perhaps Hurling.
So what went wrong?
Looking back at our triumphal season in 2018 when we won the 6 Nations Grand Slam beating England 24-15 in Twickenham and the All Blacks 16-9 at the Aviva one has to ask the question as to what went wrong in 2019.
As usual there is no simple answer and there were a number of small things which added up to the 5% which can be the difference between winning and losing badly against the top teams.
Firstly, one has to acknowledge that other teams moved on and improved substantially in the interim. Playing an injury weakened All Blacks team on their end of season tour in a "friendly" at the Aviva is not the same as playing them in a World Cup.
The All Blacks have developed a new "dual playmaker" system for beating the rush defence and discovered a rich vein of new talent in the meantime. Everyone has twigged the very structured set piece based game plan that Ireland has relied on, which has made them very predictable.
The Springboks have been transformed under Rassie Erasmus and being allowed to bring home their exiled talent gives them a far stronger pool of players to choose from. England have benefited from having all their top players fit at the same time as well as finally discovering a top class back row.
Ireland, by contrast, have stagnated, trying to manage a lot of key players through injury and not bringing in many new players or tactics in the last 12 Months. Our rise to the top has bred a conservatism on the basis of why change a system that got us to the top in the first place? The game has evolved in the last 12 months, and we didn't lead the change.
But let us not forget the small margins which led us to lose to a very good Japan side, which in turn landed us with a quarter final against a rampant All-Black side which had the benefit of an extra week's rest and training prior to what had become a grudge match for them.
Some of the Irish players may have passed their peak. Best, probably Kearney, and possibly Sexton and Earls will retire from international rugby. Top class replacements will have to be developed or found. Some of our established players may not be quite as good as we thought they were.
Certainly this World Cup has unveiled some extraordinary talent in the other top teams. For us perhaps only Larmour, Ringrose, Farrell, Ryan, and Beirne enhanced their reputations. But all is not lost. The 6 Nations is just 3 months away, and I have no doubt this Irish squad still have a lot to give. Onwards and upwards!