Scotland v Ireland: A defeat, but let’s not panic
Scotland 10 Ireland 6: It is the established norm that once every four years, in the build-up to a World Cup, Ireland play Scotland at Murrayfield.
Over the years that convention has not been without its problems, however.
Back in 2003, the 29-10 victory chalked up by Eddie O’Sullivan-coached Ireland came at the cost of Geordan Murphy — in sublime form at the time — breaking his leg. Not ideal on the eve of the tournament.
So the memories of that misfortune probably played a part in O’Sullivan’s highly cautious approach four years later when he withheld his big names in the hope that the powder he had chosen to keep dry would ignite when, after the phoney war, the conflict-proper got under way in France.
Instead it all blew up in his face. Scotland won the Edinburgh scrap by a 31-21 margin and when Ireland ventured forth to compete in the French-hosted global rugby showpiece, they flopped horribly.
Mercifully, on Saturday, there were no 2003-type injuries. Indeed, rather than losing a quality full-back just ahead of the World Cup, Ireland saw Rob Kearney return in a manner which suggested he will be ready for New Zealand.
And they will be confident that Saturday’s 10-6 defeat will not prove to have been a harbinger of 2007 revisited.
That is a reasonable assumption. For although, with the exception of one of two players requiring game-time following injury lay-offs, coach Declan Kidney fielded what amounted to a second string and is unlikely to repeat the mistakes of his predecessor.
Four years ago, Ireland played just two warm-up Tests. Kidney has opted for four.
O’Sullivan — upon finally sensing that the paucity of warm-up fixtures might rebound on him — managed to squeeze in a game with Bayonne late on. Kidney has added a date with Connacht to his four-test schedule.
Most telling of all, however, is that while at this stage of the preparations four years ago there was an ominously growing sense that all was not well, there is no such mood now.
With a Grand Slam and three Heineken Cup final triumphs in the interim, Irish players know how to win. And do bear in mind the quality of the players not deployed in green at the weekend.
No-one should be buying sackcloth or storing a bucket of ashes. Saturday must be seen for what it was — a narrow defeat for a side featuring a number of players whose role, where they have one, will be purely supportive five weeks hence.
It would be ridiculous to panic in the wake of a defeat inflicted at the death by a Scottish side boasting most of its best players. Indeed, I would venture that Scotland coach Andy Robinson has considerably more cause for concern than his Irish counter
part. Having now had an initial look, Kidney will be closer to the answers to one or two big questions required by August 22, the date on which he must separate the wheat from the chaff in naming the 30 who will carry Irish hopes in New Zealand.
Scrum-half has become a problem area, with Saturday’s incumbent Tomas O’Leary currently a pale shadow of the man who served up such an exquisite performance of the art of scrum-half-play against England at Twickenham on February 27, 2010.
Hands up anyone who can remember an O’Leary display of anything like that quality in the 18 months which have followed?
Worryingly, Eoin Reddan has not rammed home the advantage that ought to have given him.
There were pluses, though. Alongside Kearney, wingers Andrew Trimble and Luke Fitzgerald completed a back three which, in terms of cohesion, was the best of Irish units. Donnacha Ryan did himself no harm at all with his workman-like performance in the engine-room and hooker Jerry Flannery managed to come through his final-quarter run-out intact.
A ring-rusty showing by Ireland?
Yes, but how could it have been otherwise given their line-up plus the nature and the timing of the fixture?
In the words of Corporal Jones, no need to panic.