Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

Brian O'Driscoll: Ireland were so poor

Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll after the IRB Rugby World Cup match at Stadium Taranaki, New Plymouth, New Zealand
Keith Earls is just short of the USA line
USA fans

Brian O'Driscoll's body language spoke as much as the damning words he used to assess Ireland's unconvincing start to the Rugby World Cup.

Frustration exuded from the deflated Irish captain as he reflected on a 22-10 victory over the United States that only reinforced the belief the team is locked in a downward spiral.

The wet and blustery conditions at Stadium Taranaki were challenging at best and the Eagles were highly motivated by the 10th anniversary of September 11.

But O'Driscoll refused to offer excuses as he delivered an unusually critical verdict on how Ireland had performed in their Pool C opener.

“We didn't play well, we really had to fight for our win and we have got a hell of a lot to work to do,” said the Lions centre.

“We turned the ball over too much. Our performance was typified by the last play of the game (when the USA scored an intercept try).

“We have got a big challenge now against Australia.”

Where once next Saturday's clash with the Wallabies in Auckland was viewed as the pivotal fixture in the group, now it is Italy on October 2 that is of greatest importance.

In the context of the team's record this year it is hard to see how they can overcome Australia, unless they rediscover the perfect storm that enabled them to thump England in March.

After losing all four warm-up internationals they can at least celebrate a return to winning ways, but this was not the performance to dispel the anxiety felt last month.

Failing to secure the bonus point against the USA could yet prove costly, though as O'Driscoll stated Ireland should be above scraping their way into the knockout stages.

“There were aspects that were disappointing, but the most important thing was that we broke our losing sequence and won the game,” he said.

“If we're relying on bonus points to get us through the group stages we're going to be in trouble.

“We start from the USA game only.

“The four warm-up games were exactly that. This is the World Cup.

“We can't afford slip-ups or to lose too many games in the pool stages.

“You have to win games ugly if necessary. This win might not have been a thing of beauty but we got across the line and that's the most important thing.

“We're sitting on four points when at the start of the day we had nothing.

“It's something to work on. Now comes a huge challenge — playing Australia.”

Two tries from Tommy Bowe and a touchdown by Rory Best helped make up for the failed goal kicking of Jonathan Sexton, who missed two of his six shots at goal.

Sexton also offered little direction, though the situation barely improved once he was replaced by Ronan O'Gara in the 50th minute.

Too many of Ireland's big game players are struggling for form — Jamie Heaslip, Gordon D'Arcy and O'Driscoll among them, though just how fit the captain really is following his battle with a shoulder injury remains unknown outside the camp.

The return of flanker Sean O'Brien cannot come soon enough and he should slot in at openside against Australia, displacing the ineffective Shane Jennings.

Encouragement can be taken from the performance of Stephen Ferris, who grew in stature as the game progressed, while Paul O'Connell was a worthy winner of the man-of-the-match award.

Test debutant Conor Murray looks classy at scrum-half, even if he did make a couple of errors, and the scrum dominated the Eagles.

But Ireland are clearly struggling and for all the positive noises being made about training, Declan Kidney seems incapable of breaking the cycle on the pitch.

USA coach Eddie O'Sullivan was far more satisfied with the match and will have taken pleasure from the discomfort the Eagles have caused his former paymasters.

“We fought our way from the first minute until the last. We were punch drunk at times, but we were very spirited,” he enthused.

“The lads put in a huge performance.

“All it takes is for a couple of lads to bail and then the floodgates open and you've conceded 20 or 30 points.

“There were times when I thought that would happen but guys just dug deeper and deeper.

“We could have got a right hiding so the lads deserved a lot of credit for hanging in there,” O’Sullivan added.

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