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Six Nations: 'Blame us, not the coaches,' says Rob Kearney

He smiles knowingly as the familiar statistic is paraded before him - Ireland wins in Paris are as uncommon as remorseful bankers.

"It doesn't fill you with much confidence if you're just looking at it as a record," grins Rob Kearney with the grimness of one munching a lemon.

Across in frozen Marcoussis at French HQ, they dismiss such territorial supremacy, one home defeat since '72, and have already begun doffing their respectful cap towards the Irish.

Kearney may counter that this is typical talk from the opposition, but the feeling runs a bit deeper than that. French clubs, from the humblest provincial outfits to the aristocratic giants of Toulouse, have become all too well acquainted with defeat at Irish hands over the last decade, home and away.

And they are perennially anxious that this supremacy is set to be translated into the international arena -- just like many a frustrated Irish supporter.

For sure, the link between provincial and international success is probably more intangible than we once thought; the conversion rate is not an applied science, as the Welsh rugby phenomenon graphically demonstrates.

Still, the puzzling fact remains that, setting aside deliberately vague references to game plans and tactics and other extraneous waffle, how can a well-drilled trio of provincial teams so dramatically flop in the basic facets of rugby football in a green shirt?

After all, the provinces' primary motivation is how best to retain possession at all times; last Sunday, Ireland's modus operandi seemed to be entirely the opposite, notwithstanding a less-than-hasty desire to win it back with their powder-puff defence.

Kearney fails to see the logic in standing up the provinces' recent success against a stuttering international side who have won just five of 13 games against top-ranked opposition in the last 12 months.

"Every coach has a different way of coaching a team," he explains. "Granted, there are differences in game plan I'd be aware of between Leinster and Ireland. That's not saying that one is right and one is wrong.

"Both have brought a lot of success, but both are being played at different levels. I think you have to take into consideration that there is a step-up from provincial to international level and how your analysis changes as well."

After bashing one myth, Kearney is also keen to emphasise that, for all the aimless kicking, soft defence and poor ball retention evident in Sunday's performance, management didn't dispense all those 'tactics.'

The players, we are now told, are entirely responsible for their on-field options. Whether the same players are seeking to take the pressure off the coach remains unclear.

"We did speak about this issue of player ownership on Tuesday," Kearney revealed. "Paul said a few words about the players having to take a bit more ownership of the whole thing.

"But, in defence of that, I don't get the impression that the players didn't take any ownership last week. I wouldn't say that's a fair point to make. The players always have to run these things.

"The coaches are there to help us and give us game plans and shapes. But, ultimately, we're the guys who run them on the field and that's the most important aspect of the whole thing."

Hence the players' review spared little in its coruscating analysis of the varied defensive deficiencies.

"We were more critical than usual and that's a good thing," he admits. "Sometimes you can come into these things and just focus on the positives a lot and talk about the team we can be and so on.

"But sometimes there comes a point when we need to be harsher on ourselves. Obviously, our defence let us down on the day. That's not what we expect of this team.

"Our defensive record over the years has been pretty strong. At the weekend it was well below par. More often than not, you'll find defence is a mindset.

"There were a couple of technicalities where we came up short and some guys did things that you wouldn't expect of them."

On the brighter side of life, Kearney is more than pleased with the positive attacking intent demonstrated last weekend on the rare occasions when Ireland developed multi-phased play.

More of the same will be required on Saturday.

"Yeah, both tries were examples of our change in attack," he enthuses. "That was the most pleasing aspects of it, trying things in training and that it pays off come game day.

"We have changed a little bit since the World Cup because there was a consensus that we were becoming a little predictable in some of our play.

"Given that we had only three or four weeks for everyone to focus on that, I think we can be pretty happy, because it wasn't our attack that let us down."

Paris is not a place to begin scratching around for form, particularly armed with the burden of history.

"The record is going to be broken at some stage, but what annoys me about Paris is that you read reports and speak to each other about it being a game we could have won. The heroic last 50 minutes from Ireland.

"The biggest thing is not giving them a head-start and to then end up chasing the game. Because that's what we've always done. You can't give them a lead, because it's irretrievable.

"We have beaten them before. We haven't done anything different and that is an important point to make this weekend: we are not going to try and do anything different. Okay, we do have to go after them a little bit more.

"When you are away from home you have to go at them, but, at the same time, it's important that we don't feel as if we have to produce something special or magical.

"We need to just do what we know we are capable of, playing the percentages when needs be and be clinical in attack."

For all the wild conspiracy theories then, a simple conclusion. Ireland don't need to change a thing - just become better.

Belfast Telegraph


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