Ireland are in urgent need of a morale boost. More specifically, coach Declan Kidney is. Saturday’s 16-12 defeat by South Africa was their fifth in a row, making this their worst run since they lost seven on the bounce between November 1997 and June 1998.
They have been beaten in seven of their 12 outings since returning to their rebuilt Dublin 4 home in 2010. Between 2000 and 2006 — the year in which they left the old Lansdowne Road to enable its reconstruction as the Aviva Stadium — Ireland’s home record was an impressive 81%. Measured alongside that, recent results are abysmal.
Kidney, whose contract expires at the end of this season and on whom the pressure is mounting by the minute, will highlight the thin dividing line between success and failure. To that end he can cite the fact the eight of Ireland’s last 11 defeats in Dublin have been of four-points-or-fewer proportions.
Unfortunately for the coach, the margin of defeat is neither here nor there; in professional sport, the only thing that matters is winning.
That being the case, ask yourself this question: since guiding what actually was a team of Eddie O’Sullivan’s
making over the line to the Grand Slam in 2009 — a calendar year in which unbeaten Ireland’s record was played 10, won nine, drew one — what has Kidney achieved?
One-off results are misleading, so don’t be blinded by a 24-11 win against England in March 2011, a 15-6 World Cup victory over Australia six months later or a March 2012 draw with France in Paris. The overall picture is a lot less impressive.
Having won the Grand Slam in 2009, the defending champions lost in France and at Croke Park against a seriously struggling Scotland side to finish second in the race in 2010.
Their two summer tests, south of the equator, ended in defeats by New Zealand and Australia. Their record in the autumn internationals was 50/50 — defeats by South Africa and New Zealand, wins against Samoa and Argentina. Played seven, won three.
In 2011 they lost to France and Wales in the championship, slipping to third, with that Dublin tanking of England — already champions when they arrived — masking that reality. It returned though, when en route to the World Cup Kidney’s side lost all four warm-up matches.
In the tournament itself, Ireland bounced back, winning all four group-stage matches to top Pool C in which their casualties included the Wallabies whom, under Kidney |(pictured) they beat at Eden Park. It was Ireland’s first-ever World Cup win over one of the southern hemisphere’s big three and their first victory south of the equator for 32 years.
Happy days? Nope, day singular. Another flash in the pan rather than part of a persuasive pattern.
Against Wales in the quarter-final they were well-beaten, thereby ending another World Cup campaign.
The stark facts are these: since that memorable win against the Wallabies on September 17, 2011, Ireland’s only successes in the dozen matches which have followed have been against Russia, Italy — twice — and Scotland, with a 17-17 draw against France in Paris the highlight of their 2012 Six Nations’ campaign in which they finished third once again — five points behind Slam-winning Wales, and three shy of England, the runners-up.
In the past eight months, Ireland have won only one of their six test matches — 32-14 against Scotland on March 10.
In the aftermath of Saturday’s slow strangulation by the Springboks, Kidney’s response was: “It’s a tough learning curve and we’ll make gains from that in the future.
“Obviously we’ll need to get something out of the match here in a fortnight’s time (November 24, against Argentina) and to get ourselves up and going for next weekend against Fiji as well, so that’s the overriding concern at the moment.”
The post-weekend rankings show just how precarious Ireland’s hold on their second-tier place has become. The updated situation is: Band 1: New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, France. Band 2: England, Wales, Argentina, Ireland. Band 3: Scotland, Samoa, Italy, Tonga
Should Ireland lose to Argentina — who saw off Grand Slam champions, Wales, on Saturday in Cardiff — that could prove very costly come the December 3 draw for the 2015 World Cup.
Meanwhile if Tom Court, Declan Fitzpatrick, Dan Tuohy, Paddy Jackson, Darren Cave, Luke Marshall or Craig Gilroy are not in Kidney’s plans for Saturday when an Irish XV face the Fijians at Thomond Park, Mark Anscombe — coach of injury-hit PRO12-leading Ulster — would be delighted to welcome all or any of those players back in time for Sunday’s match against Zebre and/or the following Friday night’s date with Treviso.