Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 22 November 2014

Ireland got just desserts for being second best

Let there be no weeping or gnashing of teeth but instead a simple acceptance that the better team, with the better attitude, playing the better brand of rugby, triumphed on the day.





And please may we be spared sensational recrimination for a squad who promised so much and did us so proud throughout the pool stages of this World Cup. In the end Declan Kidney's men came up every bit as short as the 12-point losing margin in Wellington suggests.

For us, against the much superior Welsh, we got what we deserved, an early ticket home. It's time to hold up our hands and admit we were second best. It wasn't that Warren Gatland's high-energy, well-tutored side produced anything exceptional, but they did the simple things well. They adapted to the conditions and demands of the opposition far more efficiently than the unit in green.

They played with a greater physicality, injected a quicker tempo and imposed the type of suffocating defence that is way beyond our creative ability at this point in time.

Sam Warburton proved conclusively that he is so much more than a flash ball-carrier in open field. He was immense, superbly slowing possession at the breakdown.

That destructive quality allied to the pressure exerted by Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies, whether with possession or without, put Ireland in a straitjacket.

Where we have fallen way behind other teams is in our ability to create, innovate and insert any meaningful form of line-breaking incision. For sure, Les Kiss is earning his defensive crust, but in rugby, like so many other walks of life, it is a lot easier to negate than to create.

No doubt many of those involved at this World Cup will reassess where they go from here, but certainly in terms of pace and guile in the three-quarter line attack we are lacking.

Try as we might to single out individuals for praise, we are grasping at straws. Rory Best ... probably; Paul O'Connell ... possibly; Rob Kearney ... maybe ... in fits and starts; but beyond that, not a lot.

It was the Welsh calling all the shots and nowhere more tellingly than at half-back, where Mike Phillips and Rhys Priestland excelled as a combination.

By comparison we were bitty and unconvincing where we needed to be assertive and strong.

I'm not sure it was prudent to call both Conor Murray and Ronan O'Gara ashore just 15 minutes into the second half. The argument that at least Kidney had the nerve to initiate change carries some weight given the marked reluctance of his predecessors to initiate change in the past.

But we didn't lose solely because of greater deficiency at half-back. It would also be overly simplistic to put this defeat down to lapses in defensive concentration alone, but the two second-half Welsh tries contained a litany of Irish errors.

I also cringe every time I see an Irish side, be it international or provincial, turning down early point-scoring opportunities. It signals a mindset beyond our station. Arguing that going for the corner rather than the posts somehow represents a new-found confidence carries little weight.

In the final analysis, the side that did the simple things well is now at the penultimate stage.

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