AFTER the high of a Grand Slam in 2009, defeats in two of their five matches in the just-ended RBS 6 Nations has left Ireland facing some tough questions and decisions.
So what now? Where exactly are we in terms of our preparations for next year’s World Cup?
Declan Kidney faces some big decisions, specifically with regard to changes he is going to have to make sooner or later.
And therein is the quandary, for the timing is going to be as important as the personnel changes.
In many ways it is unfortunate that Saturday’s defeat by hitherto bottom of the table Scotland marked the end of the campaign, for one can only speculate as to what might have happened had Ireland being playing again this or next weekend.
It was a wake-up call and having had that, it remains to be seen how long Kidney will persist with the status quo.
With 11 matches in which to get all of his pieces in place ahead of the forthcoming World Cup, the biggest of the many questions he must now answer — in his own head and heart, if not publicly — is when to start making changes.
His scrum most certainly is a problem he must address. Mind you, it has been for some time.
Does anyone seriously believe there a World Cup left in that
most loyal of servants, the redoubtable John Hayes, who will be hastening towards his 38th birthday come New Zealand 2011?
In the 2010 RBS 6 Nations we saw Ireland’s opponents opt to scrummage against them when free to do so.
But at least the Irish were confident about their line-out. Until, that is, Scotland knocked a little bit of the stuffing out of them on that count.
Post-match we heard Kidney and Paul O’Connell bemoaning the fact that Ireland would not, as a squad, have the opportunity to gather their thoughts, gird up their loins, regroup and perform again. ‘Back in the saddle’ and all of that.
After what happened in Paris, that was what they did in readiness for England. They went to Twickenham still smarting after events a fortnight earlier and, as a result, took to the pitch focused, fired up and determined to make amends.
And who knows? They might well have done the same after last weekend’s reversal.
But maybe not.
Because post-Paris the consensus was that February 13 had been a blip, a belief to which subsequent victories over England and Wales appeared to lend credence.
Now no-one is quite so sure. Because if one is being brutally honest, two defeats in the past five outings against opponents, all of whom had been beaten in the previous year’s series, is suggestive of something rather more worrying than an off-day.
Three out of five translates as a 40% failure rate against Northern Hemisphere opposition.
Following Down Under matches against New Zealand (June 12) and Australia (June 26), Ireland will sharpen their claws in autumnal dates at the Aviva Stadium against South Africa, Samoa, the All Blacks and Argentina, followed by a quintet of 2011 Six Nations outings.
And then will come the really big tests.