Sunday 20 October 2019

We won't move forward by applauding failure

A dejected Jamie Heaslip following the disappointing quarter-final defeat at the hands of Argentina
A dejected Jamie Heaslip following the disappointing quarter-final defeat at the hands of Argentina

Dave Devereux: Weird Wide World of Sport

Another Rugby World Cup, another abject failure for the Irish rugby team.

Despite all the 'boys did us proud' claptrap that the more forgiving fans tend to spout, that's exactly what it was --an unequivocal failure.

All we managed during a sub-standard tournament for the Irish was the expected drubbings of the cannon fodder and a laboured victory over a limited Italian side, before our one glimmer of light when we put the fickle French to the sword.

However, after watching their no-show against the All Blacks you could safely say that it's the worst French team in living memory with a clueless coach, and it's obvious that the money-fuelled Top 14 league has stolen the soul of the game in the Gallic nation.

It would be easy to roll out the predictable excuses about injuries and losing talismanic leaders from the squad, but the truth is we're just not good enough and Argentina cruelly exposed our limitations with an impressive display of force and flair.

The warning signs were clearly there when England were dismantled by Australia with military-like precision. We may have pipped Stuart Lancaster's men to a couple of Six Nations championships but we are pretty much on a par with the World Cup hosts and their demise clearly illustrated the enormity of our task.

The Wallabies may have survived by the skin of their teeth against a brave Scotland side but, unlike the ruthless All Blacks, they have a habit of taking teams for granted and given the correct application would have won the game comfortably, instead of falling over the line.

The Irish rugby team normally gets an easy time when it comes to criticism but to never win a knockout game in the World Cup is nothing short of shocking, and we couldn't have asked for a more favourable draw than this time around. When you consider that New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Argentina, England, Ireland, Wales, France and at a push Scotland are the only half decent sides playing the game, never reaching the semi-finals is simply not good enough.

It's impossible to argue against the belief that we just don't show up for the big occasion and our lack of ambition and the one-dimensional nature of our play was blindingly obvious on Sunday.

Of course, the eternally happy back-patters will argue that we've managed to win the ones that matter in the Six Nations, but sadly in comparison to the Rugby Championship down under, it's more like an all-weather handicap around Wolverhampton than the Epsom Derby.

The southern hemisphere teams play a far more attractive and expansive game that encourages skill and deft play and doesn't just rely on brute force.

The quick hands and off-loads produced by the All Blacks would have you oohing and aahing and if most of our squad, or any other northern hemisphere players for that matter, tried it they would rupture something and end up in A&E.

It's probably no coincidence that the four semi-finalists haven't been ravaged by injury to the same extent as their European rivals given that they let the ball do most of the work instead of mindlessly and repeatedly running into blind alleys and kicking the ball into the high heavens and leaping like hopeful gazelles into the air and praying that they get the right bounce of the oval ball.

Ireland may be good enough to win the Six Nations, but like it or not, it is just a regional tournament.

It's always a fine achievement to win it but as we've been brutally reminded at the weekend, despite world rankings telling us otherwise, it's far from an accurate reflection of where we stand in the game globally.

Argentina have shown that it's possible to improve rapidly when you're playing the best regularly so instead of laughing at England's demise we need to see them getting back to their world-beating best sooner rather than later, as the only way Ireland can improve is if the Six Nations as whole is on an upward curve.

To that end, we also need France to start taking the Six Nations seriously again and getting back to the beautiful care-free brand of rugby that we all fell in love with, where they would attack from all angles and run the ball from anywhere, even behind their own try line.

We've a long way to go to punch on level weights on a world stage but for now, instead of applauding failure, we have to take a long, hard look at why things went so badly askew, and try our damnedest to put it right.

Wexford People