Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 12 July 2014

Six Nations: It may be job done but Ireland need to raise the bar

The game was mercifully over and the ground all but empty when a small team of fluorescent-coated men began their work out on Croke Park.

They gathered in the middle of the pitch and deployed a powerful looking hose which began to gradually wash away the sponsor’s logo.

The parallel with needing to erase what had preceded their efforts, during the afternoon’s main event, seemed too delicious to ignore, except that the collective memory banks had already retained little from Saturday’s 6 Nations opener.

While the thankless task of hosing continued in rather predictable fashion, some even more humdrum activity was in full swing deep in the bowls of the stadium where the air was full of the usual bland soundbites with “rustiness”, “frustration” and “job done” being foremost in the statements being ventured by manager Declan Kidney and captain Brian O’Driscoll.

But then what else could they say? It had been a game that simply refused to ignite, with perhaps the shadow of Saturday’s showdown at the Stade de France getting enough of an edge to dictate the mass emptying of Ireland’s bench — never a particularly good idea if you want to retain structure and continuity on a game.

Maybe, but this was supposed to be a breeze for the Grand Slammers where tries were meant to be scored for fun.

The fact that Jamie Heaslip’s excellent try (even with a hint of a few forward passes) and Tomas O’Leary’s touchdown seemed to be have been scored days previously by the time the game slumped to its end says a lot for a despairingly negative Italian team and an Irish gameplan that just seemed unable to cut loose or deliver a killer pass.

It wasn’t helped by being pock-marked with several key players, Rob Kearney the chief culprit, just having an off-day when things that they tried just didn’t happen.

Still, it all has to put in context. It was a win after all and though anything but spectacular — the lack of points could yet cost Ireland in the championship, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves — the hope, and need, would be that the bar will be raised quite a few notches for France especially up front.

So, job done and one game at a time please gentlemen.

Much introspection will follow and this is where Kidney will earn his corn.

Outside, the hosing team had now found their way behind the try line which Ireland had failed to cross for the entire second half as the fluorescent-jacketed squad nailed the last logo on the pitch.

Yes, time to move on.

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