Six Nations: Golden generation in last chance saloon
It is last chance saloon for Ireland against Wales in Cardiff this afternoon.
It could either be the start of a glorious new playing style by the national team. Or prove to be the day when a golden generation of players passed into history. Either way, it seems inevitable something must change.
Coach Declan Kidney cannot go on wasting vital games in the build-up to the World Cup this September, with players who can’t or won’t show greater discipline on the field. The ridiculous number of penalties Ireland have conceded in their last two games have allowed France and Scotland to kick 11 penalty goals against them in those matches.
In all, Ireland have been penalised 34 times in three games of the Six Nations Championship this season. Welsh coach Warren Gatland says he will have raised that statistic with South African referee Jonathan Kaplan before kick-off time today.
Yet it isn’t just the Irish who offend. Gatland is being disingenuous because the worst offenders in terms of penalties conceded in this year’s tournament are Wales, with 36!
Nevertheless, Ireland are acquiring a reputation as a team of serial offenders. Scottish coach Andy Robinson fumed after his side’s 18-21 loss to Ireland at Murrayfield two weeks ago, alleging Ireland conceded penalties “to slow down your rhythm”.
Whether that is true or not doesn’t much matter now. For if Ireland continue to offend at the Millenium Stadium this afternoon they won’t have 15 men on the field for very long. Kaplan is a man who has ridden into town with a mission and if necessary, he’ll sort out the offenders, whether they’re Irish or Welsh.
There is a more important point here, anyway. You cannot expect to keep playing in such a negative way and making so many mistakes, if you aim for success in any tournament. Least of all the World Cup later this year.
Ireland have to get their act together and if this group of players cannot do it, it is time that Kidney found some who can. Whether Andy Robinson is right and Ireland offend deliberately or whether they are just too indisciplined doesn’t matter.
Ireland have to stop making so many elementary errors and start playing some quality attacking rugby. They must be more positive and I cannot believe that is a task beyond them. If they have the will, they have the players to move the ball with speed and purpose.
How is it the likes of Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Jonathan Sexton, Luke Fitzgerald etc have looked so impressive in Leinster colours this season? How is it that world class players like South African centre Jean de Villiers label Munster wing Keith Earls “a special player”?
Ireland have the capacity to produce a dynamic, dangerous attacking game. What they have clearly lacked so far this season is either the instruction or desire to go out and play in such a way.
Welsh coach Gatland says his side wants to play attacking rugby, securing fast recycled ball from the breakdown. The challenge to Ireland is there – go out and match them and then beat them. On a ground where they won their second Grand Slam two years ago, Ireland are more than capable of doing just that.