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Ireland v New Zealand: Ireland can’t get by on hard work

By Peter Bills

Commitment and courage 100 per cent. Endeavour not to be questioned. Yet still Ireland were crushed, ruthlessly and clinically, by a New Zealand side that continues its pursuit of rugby excellence.

This 20 point defeat for Declan Kidney’s men told us everything about the different standards pertaining in the respective hemispheres. New Zealand were without perhaps six players of what could be their World Cup starting side.

Yet they fought off Ireland’s challenge, not easily, but with a growing conviction. From Ireland’s point of view, to do your best, to give it your best shot is one thing. But still to come up so short at this level is quite another. Saturday in Dublin merely underlined the chasm that exists between these nations.

Delusion has played a key role in this disturbing state of affairs. Players in the northern hemisphere have become too used to plaudits and handsome wage packets. They have believed their own headlines, achieved only in their own backyard.

But out in the real world, they have been exposed. And they will continue to be unless Ireland’s players subject themselves to the type of gruelling self examination and criticism which New Zealand’s top rugby men adopt as a matter of course.

I doubt whether it is in the mental DNA of northern hemisphere rugby players to be able to do that. The best of the New Zealanders set themselves such high standards that others would blanch at such lofty ambitions.

Yet when it comes to a contest such as this, all that preparation and industry reap huge rewards. Ireland’s spirit was terrific; they fronted up constantly in a physical sense which required great mental fortitude. They even scored two tries, albeit, one from a forward pass. And it still wasn’t enough.

You could question some of Kidney’s team selections. Flanker David Wallace looks past his best; somewhere, surely, there must be an alternative. Eoin Reddan continues to look barely an international class player. And he’s now 30. Finally, it was hard to see how Mick O’Driscoll, workmanlike but limited, was preferred to Devon Toner who would have learned so much from the experience.

Yet in fairness to Kidney, he could hardly be accused of leaving four or five Brian O’Driscolls in the stand. Ireland don’t have players with the same ability and intensity of attitude as the southern hemisphere giants.

For a start, Ireland’s players must work on the individual details of their game and the collective game. A series of stirring performances in the 6 Nations starting in February would raise spirits. And there is no reason why that should not happen.

What Ireland did prove was that they can embrace this high octane game with its endless possibilities of attacking rugby. That was the sole consolation to emerge but it was a considerable plus.

It should mean that Kidney’s side can go into the New Year and the 6 Nations Championship with every optimism of a successful campaign. And with the World Cup just six months after the 6 Nations, that is essential.

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