Ireland’s World Cup campaign came to it’s inevitable end on Saturday morning with a young Welsh side showing enough composure to knock the Irish bandwagon off it’s rails. It was a fun adventure while it lasted, and the players chosen outperformed in a lot of ways but ultimately this defeat was cast two years ago with Ireland’s failure to experiment since they won the Six Nations Championship.
In truth, the lack of faith in Ireland’s youth and diversity has been disappointing over the last six years with few given a real chance to compete at international level. Sure some, by necessity, have made it through, and interestingly most have become integral parts of the team, but the numbers have been nothing like those tried by Wales, France and Australia over the same period of time.
Whether through commercial pressure, short term goals, a complete lack of faith in the ability of the contenders, or pandering to the new breed of corporate supporter who demand a win at HQ with their Guinness and canapés, Ireland have always reverted to the tried and tested where possible damaging confidence and desire amongst the possibles. The oft quoted mantra from the short sighted of, “Who else would you play” was made a mockery off by the young Welsh side who comprehensively outplayed Ireland yesterday. If that side had been picked with an Irish mentality Stephen Jones would have been playing out half, Martin Williams would have been there instead of Warburton and Faletau and Charteris would have been back home with the Dragons!
However, all credit to the small number of Irish players that Ireland relied on to get them through this campaign, they certainly gave their all, but at the end of the day the ageing backbone just didn’t have enough in the tank to see them through. Crucially, faced with familiar opposition that they have beaten time and time again in the Magners/PRO12, they deviated from their simple game plan of ferocious defence, banging it up the middle and taking the points on offer and instead tried to stamp their authority on the game taking the option of attacking lineouts instead of kicking penalties.
The match stats show that Ireland enjoyed the bulk of possession, obtained four turnovers to the Welsh one and spent almost two and a half as much time in the Welsh 22 as Wales did in the Irish but Ireland’s play was so forced an laboured that they committed 14 handling errors to Wales’ 4 with these figures almost a complete reversal of the Australian game! Ireland took the ball on too far too often, forcing the pass with the inevitable result, with Warburton in particular slowing the ball down and pressurising the man in possession.
Ireland can take a lot of positives from this championship but perhaps the biggest message from thecampaign is the one delivered so tellingly by the opposition, Australia and France. Give all your resources a chance.
It’s going to be interesting to see if Ireland have the faith in their youth that others have shown.