Now that things have calmed a little on the work/learning front I can put a few thoughts down on paper about the shambles that was last weekend. I’ve had almost a week to dwell on it and form (Or reaffirm) my thoughts and for what it’s worth, here they are.
Now, Don’t get me wrong, there was some flashes of brilliance at times during the game but they were far outweighed by an almost schoolboyish penchant for mistakes at critical moments, basic mistakes that we’d give out to under sixteens for making. Silly things like receivers overrunning the pass, passes not going to hand, passes whizzing past fellahs left ears even.
These guys are not sportsmen, they are paid professionals, but don’t seem to be able to act like it under the management team that are there at the moment. I know I’ve said it before, but how can one of the best wingers in the English premiership turn into such a gormless lump when he puts on a green jersey? Murphy shows flashes of brilliance for his “Home” team but that all goes out the window on the big stage. I’m sorry to say, he has had his chance and now someone else has to be allowed a cut. Swerving Girvan overran a pass that should have resulted in a walk home and could have put the game away very early in the first half. The Centres are stale, lacking innovation and in the case of the captain, maybe dropping him (Shock Horror) might put a bit of life back into his game. Even though I feel sorry for Darcy, he was stale and poor long before coming into this game, and to be honest I don’t think his loss will worsen the situation from a team point of view. He just wasn’t cutting it this year. The crash up the middle option no longer has any punch, everyone knows that it’s our only card, and everyone can play against it now.
The scrum managed extremely well under the circumstances, I thought that they could have been destroyed but Bull, in fairness to him, along with the others managed to contain this very strong part of the italian game. As regards lineouts, Best was just wrong, a bad choice, darts going haywire, in the absence of Flannery, there is no doubt in my mind that Jackman should have got the nod, this was the game to try him on the international stage, not next week. As to Easterby, that must go down as one of the poorest picks of the new century by O’ Sullivan, for god’s sake, Quinny, Heaslip, Our own John Shine would have been a lot better. Now, you could argue that the referee was inconsistent as regards not punishing the Italians for the same offence later in the match but, COME ON, he warned him and warned him again and he had to go after the fourth time. One warning at that level should be enough and the captain should have made that clear. On the point of the captaincy, If it’s affecting his play and he isn’t effective as a captain, then why continue with him. Give the responsibility to someone else. If O’ Connell was available he’d be the prime candidate but like Munster, try O’ Gara in his absence. For god’s sake DO SOMETHING, not just sit there and hope that things will get better.
They have become a group of players that know they are going to get their place, therefore they don’t have to work for it. I stress group of players because THIS IS NOT A TEAM in any real sense. It reminds me of the bad old days before Warren Gatland, and a story told by the Claw, during the runup to Gatlands first international as coach. The Munster lads came together for a midweek meeting, all being quite sick of being in the squad to hold tackling bags for the “GOYS” (in their own words). The Munster squad members decided that enough was enough, they were going to show this new guy what they could do. The training session that night was bloody trench warfare, and the last fifteen standing got their places in the following Saturday’s game. Munster had nine in that team that week. We need a return to this mentality, not the mollycoddling, farcical minding that we do of the players at the moment. The high wages that these guys are getting means that the money has to be justified and they have to play, Maybe a return to six month or one year contracts is needed? Then if they don’t perform they don’t get the next contract. Again the captain is costing a fortune so he has to be played, and in all likelihood has to be captain by contract, who knows?
The restriction of the game time that has occurred with the central contract system is now showing up as being a bad decision. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and the world cup showed that the new-fangled style of coaching and preparing players for the competition just bloody didn’t work. The two games in the runup just weren’t tough enough to compensate for a lack of hard physical work. You can’t compare hours of weightlifting and gym time with hours of being hit, HARD by someone who wants to get on the team in your place. If he can take you out he’s in, and a return to that will bring the fire back into the bellies of this squad. It’ll also help to gel the squad as a team, as the last fifteen standing know that they are the toughest, the best and they can trust and be trusted by their teammates when the chips are down.
It’s is starting to show in the terraces, with a general malaise regarding the supporters. I know of some serious rugby folk who were solid annual international supporters, travelling and at home and they just can’t be arsed this year, they’re sick to the teeth of it. I’m one, I’ve been at all the home internationals over the last few years but this year I’m sticking with the club and Munster scene. At least you know where their heart lies and it’s not in their pockets.
The big surprise last weekend was the massive heart shown by Wales under Warren Gatland. Everyone says that the decision to run with so many players from the one team was forced on him by circumstance. I for one seriously doubt it, I have always had the greatest respect for this man and his capabilities, and have always been aggrieved at the manner of his “Disposal” by the IRFU’s own “night of the long knives”. This man doesn’t make rushed decisions, last weekends result again was the “proof of the pudding”. Maybe, just maybe, he did what he does best, he picked the best team, and the best team just happened to contain thirteen ospreys. We could learn from him, (oops , it’s a bit late for that really isn’t it, he tried)
I fear that Wales will demolish us this year, but maybe it mightn’t be a bad thing in the long term… It might finally cause the upset that is needed to break this cycle of underperformance.
Like I said, just my tuppence ha’penny worth. I’m not the coach, mind you it looks like he mightn’t be for too much longer, except that the decision to give him a four year contract is going to cost us financially, I have no doubt.
PS, I forgot to mention the brilliance from Reddan, now at last we have serious competition for the Scrum half spot and that can be nothing but good. We need competition for every position on the pitch before things will improve. Start in the AIL folks and spread your wings from there. Expand the tight little circle is the only way forward.