New Plymouth now joins Lens and Bordeaux as sites of great Irish rugby nightmares. In the early hours of yesterday morning the Irish public got a realistic view of the progress made by this team since its arrival in New Zealand.
It was a far removed from the optimistic reports from base camp. The team has gone backwards even from the low standards exhibited in the warm-up games.
Consider the evidence. After five minutes we knew that the USA did not have a scrum, a line-out, a maul or a restart. Their defence was the same as usual; presented with a straight-up target they tackled like a runaway truck, but were baffled by moving targets. They were 10 places below Ireland in the rankings and in the build-up to this tournament the team of four professionals had conceded over 80 points to the England 3rd XV, over 40 points to Tonga and were beaten by Canada and Japan.
This then was the challenge presented to a team with aspirations of beating Australia. After 39 minutes of the game, Ireland led this motley group by a mere three points. The Tommy Bowe try on the stroke of half-time was flattering to Ireland and unfortunate for their opponents who had played with courage and determination. The ease with which Bowe scored untouched demonstrated that three smart passes could unlock this defence.
This team is philosophically and psychologically unable to attack. Talented players like Brian O'Driscoll, Jonny Sexton and Andrew Trimble hoofed the ball aimlessly downfield. The Trimble kick was especially galling as the wing, with the game won and his team chasing a bonus point, decided on the boot rather than trust his proven running skills.
Incredibly, with a massive territorial and possession advantage, the back row was outplayed with the exception of Stephen Ferris, who carried the ball with conviction. Shane Jennings was anonymous and Eagles’ open-side Todd Clever gave an indication of what David Pocock will do to Ireland next week. If anything, Jamie Heaslip was more ineffective than Jennings. Incomprehensibly, with the scrum going forward at a rate of knots, he failed to attack once off the back.
The pedestrian back play is now an Irish trademark, but who decided that Sexton should continually use his outsides on the cut-back into traffic rather than take it wide into space? It took an hour and the arrival of Ronan O'Gara to get the ball wide with decoy runners for the resultant Bowe try.
Leadership and tactical appreciation is a real problem. After just eight minutes, having divined that the Eagles could not maul, Ireland went for touch rather than points. Unbelievably they threw long and were driven back.
Keeping possession is a fundamental of any football sport. This Ireland failed to do with any regularity as they spilled pass after pass. Irish errors were double that of a bunch of no-hopers. The conditions were no excuse; presumably the Californians see less rain than the Munster men.
If one had any feelings of deja vu from RWC 2007 then Gordon D'Arcy's appalling pass to gift an intercept try brought back memories of the Peter Stringer lapse that sent Ireland down the slippery slope in France. To excuse D'Arcy on the grounds that the game was won is nonsense. Does Nigel Kennedy strike a bum note at the end of a concert? Did Tiger Woods tap a careless putt wide when he won the Masters by 12 strokes? The pass was as symptomatic of a team malaise as was the scrum-half's error four years ago.
Much could be made of the performances so far of the other minnows in the competition. The big difference is that every other team has a scrum and a maul. Ireland, are in the easiest pool and yet on this performance may not qualify. Italy in Dunedin on October 2nd, as it has been for over a year, looks a difficult task and it may be beyond this team.
Can Declan Kidney turn this around by Saturday? The opening match makes his selection against Australia look obvious. Geordan Murphy will start at full-back but it would be a travesty if Trimble is omitted. Bowe, despite his two tries, looked a player short on matches, but physical wings will be needed against Australia and Keith Earls has not looked the part.
Half-back must surely be a done deal with Eoin Reddan and Ronan O'Gara to start. Sexton's descent into oblivion continues. Young Conor Murray discovered the hard truths of international rugby behind an unsympathetic pack and he simply tried too hard. One suspects that Kidney will settle for the predictable but average skills of Isaac Boss in the arm-wrestle that Ireland must create, rather than a contest of skill, in which it will come out second best.
Sadly, Jennings' non-performance guarantees Sean O'Brien the No 7 shirt and the freedom of the park to Pocock. O'Brien's ball-carrying strengths will be minimised while he struggles to come to terms with winning the ball in the ruck. The inevitable result will be quick ball for Australia and interminable waits for the Irish scrum-half at the breakdown.
For Kidney, he must hope that his team can deliver a performance against the superior Wallabies. To do that he must eschew a sophisticated plan and rely on the kicking and game management abilities of his fly-half.
Ireland can trouble the Australian set-piece and lay the groundwork for a war of attrition. It is the only battle they can win. A game of movement will guarantee a loss.
Watch this space.