Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 December 2014

Tyrone Howe: Please Ireland,let's cut out the horror movies

Usually there is a 9 o'clock watershed for horror movies, but on Saturday night, one slipped under the censor's radar and scared the life out of millions of people all over Ireland.

It started at 8pm and finished less than two hours later as rugby supporters clambered back up from behind the sofa and dared to take their hands from in front of their eyes.



Let's be honest, Georgia could and should have won that game.

70% possession is a statistic that international teams dream about and had Georgia managed to kick two of their many drop goal attempts, Ireland hopes could have suffered a mortal blow.

Georgia is a limited team with an even more limited game plan, but with a national culture steeped in the sport of wrestling, they managed to drag Ireland into World War One rugby - absolute trench warfare.

You couldn't help but admire their courage and team ethic, but in the midst of the attrition, a lack of inventiveness combined with sterling Irish defence was their ultimate undoing.

Nevertheless, Georgia, who had changed eleven players from their match against Argentina just four days earlier, emerged from the battle as moral victors, like proud gladiators lapping up the adulation and acclaim of the crowd.

By denying Ireland even a sniff of a bonus point they have rendered Friday night's match against France even more of a Doomsday scenario.



So what was missing from the Irish performance?



Most worrying, the Irish pack, despite having the upper hand in much of the set piece, failed to fire, once again, in the close exchanges around the breakdown and struggled to match their opponents in terms of rugged physicality. This made life incredibly difficult for Peter Stringer, as quick, clean and quality ball was nowhere to be found. I know he has his critics but I have nothing but respect for Stringer - pound for pound he is the toughest wee man I have ever met, but like all scrumhalves, his performance is, to a large part, determined by the performances of the eight much bigger men in front of him and they certainly didn't make his life any easier.



Other areas of concern can be summed up by a succinct four words - continuity, communication, composure and confidence, but while the players will be under no illusions as to the test that awaits them next Friday, the most influential element this week will be another C - the Coach.



What has been highly interesting in the last two weeks has been the roles played by coaches Eddie O'Sullivan and his French counterpart Bernard Laporte. The former reacted to the poor performance against Namibia by sticking by those players, bar Andrew Trimble, who have performed admirably for him over the last few years. Laporte got rid of virtually all his.

The 86-10 hammering of Namibia suggests that Laporte got it right, however he has a much greater selection dilemma for Friday night. Like the All Blacks (and also, it would appear, Georgia), he has virtually two teams that are almost equally combative, so for the "grand match" his neck is on the line in terms of getting selection right. O'Sullivan has opted for a surprise or two but I would have had Neil Best as one of them.



Given that the hype and pressure on both teams will build exponentially as the week unfolds and explode in a truly great crescendo at the Stade de France on Friday evening, both coaches will have to pay attention to the players emotionally and psychologically.

Great players do not become bad players overnight and Ireland has in its ranks proven performers and serious gamebreakers. In real terms, the last two matches count for very little. We have two wins and what has changed? Nothing - beat France and Argentina and avoid New Zealand in the quarter-finals.

What have we seen from Ireland? Nothing - not one backs move, hardly a pattern.

There will be a few surprises on Friday but the question is, will there be enough?

Our boys must be hurting, so let's get behind them and spur them on for a monumental effort. Fireworks in Paris?

Definitely, and I can't wait... Oh yes, and wasn't it a shame about England.

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