Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Tony Ward: Mindless kicking is hurting Ireland

If a twenty point defeat to New Zealand failed to do Ireland justice the week before then this twenty point victory over Argentina certainly flattered to deceive in reverse proportion.

Given an encouraging opening half in which they put together some encouraging phases, not least for Stephen Ferris's well manufactured and equally well executed opening try, allied to some amazing goalkicking glitches by the normally reliable Felipe Contepomi, this was in many ways an opportunity lost by Ireland.

And no we are not being negative here. We are well aware that this represented a record score by either side in this ultra competitive often times nasty fixture.

And while it would be wrong to say this game lacked bite nonetheless the feistiness we normally associate with the Latin/Celtic clash was for whatever reason kept in check on this occasion.

Perhaps it was the sub zero temperatures in the stadium or maybe the sad loss of five young rugby players' lives in recent days in a road accident in Argentina, either way the exchanges were muted by recent standards.

Most worrying from Kidney's perspective was the inability after the interval to kick on.

A sixteen point cushion at the break should have provided the incentive and confidence to drive the advantage further home. Instead it was the Pumas, save for the start and finish of the second half, effectively bossing the game. Ireland did not help themselves in that period with some mindless and aimless kicking out of hand. Give a Southern Hemisphere side free possession and it is mighty hard work getting it back.

Fortunately for Ireland this is an Argentine side in transition, one a long way short of that which finished third in the world in France in '07.

In individual terms Gordon D'Arcy was one of a number to stand out.

Both Cian Healy and Sean Cronin had their ball carrying moments in the loose while as a unit along with Tony Buckley the Irish front line stood up to arguably the meanest and certainly the most experienced in the front row business. The scrum at times creaked but never, ever crumbled.

Ferris too was on the first half rampage but it was Jamie Heaslip who yet again proved the master over the 80 minutes and most particularly in times of potential crisis and back foot selflessness.

He is to Kidney and this Irish pack what Richie McCaw continues to be in terms of influence for Graham Henry and the All Blacks. In a strange sort of way the absence of Paul O'Connell has done Heaslip a power of good. He is our go to player.

D'Arcy too was immense yesterday in that regard visibly taking midfield responsibility at times when it was most needed. The other plus was the speed and accuracy of Peter Stringer's whip-like service but that Kidney knows he can take for granted. On the downside was second half loose kicking which was tactically and practically inept.

The other area of concern and for the second week running was with the restarts. For or against we are still nowhere close to where we need to be. Here O'Connell's loss is massive.

Despite the arrival of Eoin Reddan and Ronan O'Gara in the final stanza Stringer and Jonny Sexton — whose goalkicking was again top notch — did enough individually and collectively to justify first up selection. The race for the Munster No 9 shirt will most likely determine who starts against Italy in Rome in the Six Nations. Whatever else Stringer's name is now back in the frame.

A record win making it two from four in the November series should not mask the deficiencies. We are a long way yet from the finished article but given the status and modus operandi of yesterday's opposition it is a timely win and psychological boost ahead of the Italian's next up. And with a clean bill of health allowing no reason in the wide world why we can't hit Rome running.