Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 16 April 2014

O'Sullivan's time must surely be up

Adieu then to an Irish side high on hype. but desperately short on delivery at this World Cup.

The songs of the thousands of Irish supporters in the atmospheric Parc des Princes died in their throats as the Pumas ended the slim, last hopes of Eddie O'Sullivan's men.

Truth to tell, Ireland have not been good enough to escape the clutches of the pool of death and they merely underlined their shortcomings yesterday.

As the final minutes ticked away, little pockets of delirious Argentine fans waved their flags, sang and jumped for joy.

Theirs has been a monumental achievement in this tournament to emerge from this group with four straight wins. Now, the road to the semi-final is surely open to them.

The contrast between these sides was most marked up front and at out-half Juan Martin Hernandez simply outplayed Ronan O'Gara, demonstrating his great repertoire of skills that could trouble any defence.

Hernandez collected drop goals like a child, daisies in a summer field. He'd landed three by the finish and played a crucial part in his side's second try, finished by wing Horacio Agulla right on half-time.

By complete contrast, O'Gara had a nightmare.

He has stumbled through this World Cup like a man in a minefield, disorientated, fearful and unable to offer the slightest inspiration to others.

Again, his kicking was woefully inaccurate and aimless. He looked like a man bereft of inspiration and without hope.

It was sad to see the demise of a player who has been a loyal servant for his country. Pumas prop Roberto Roncero hit him hard in one late tackle, held him down on the ground and gave him a verbal blasting. It must have gone to the very core of O'Gara's soul. Players know when they have come up short and his has been an awful tournament.

A couple of Ireland's players raged against the dying of the light.

Geordan Murphy was solidity personified at the back under the high ball and he was in the right place to capitalise on a rare moment of space for his 47th minute try.

But not even Murphy could find the key to break a Pumas defence which was, for the most part, rock solid and high on confidence.

Ireland got through it twice, but both times only because centre Manuel Contepomi missed tackles in the rush defence.

Otherwise, Ireland were presented with an impenetrable screen of Argentinian bodies and they had few ideas on how to get past them.

Ireland, like Wales, Italy and to a lesser extent England, have been found out in this World Cup.

They are nowhere near as good as they believed or were made out to be.

Players who cannot do the simple basics well enough hardly qualify for the stage of a World Cup and O'Gara's pitiful performance here was evidence of that failing.

But he was not alone in being a crushing disappointment. The team has played at a pedestrian, plodding pace that is insufficient at the highest level.

Wales took their coach out and put him up against the wall less than 24 hours after their early elimination.

But the IRFU find themselves in a pretty pickle because of their own foolish haste in re-appointing O'Sullivan before a ball was kicked here.

The clear message that has emerged from this World Cup for Ireland is that a fresh start needs to be made. That must mean the coach as well.

His has been a message heard for years and clearly it has become stale.

This is a scenario familiar to most coaches eventually and Ireland have played at this event like a team without inspiration, proper belief and vision.

They've been as predictable and ponderous as a novice on the chessboard and O'Sullivan has to accept the responsibility for that.

He's had complete carte blanche from his employers to do the job. To turn around and blame the players, as O'Sullivan tried to do after the defeat to France, was hardly the stuff of squad bonding.

A new coach should be the first requirement for this shattered Irish rugby squad as it picks over the debris of this failed campaign.