Anybody with the slightest knowledge about rugby for the four decades this writer has been on the go – at the very least – will surely know of the efficiency of those from the Pacific island of Fiji in the 7s format of the game.
Therefore, you’d have thought that a prerequisite of whatever strategies Andy Farrell, Paul O’Connell et al had devised would’ve centred on trying to deprive their opponents of ball in hand and opportunities to instigate their running game.
What happens? What was basically an Irish second string did little to enhance their status. A pedantic, error-strewn effort that made an onlooker fearful of what may happen if any of the pillars of operations run into trouble.
A half dozen first half penalties pinged and a plethora of unforced errors which, with respect, if coughed up against better opposition, would be summarily punished. As it was, Vern Cotton’s charges produced some wonderfully fluid, running rugby with ball in hand. Their staple diet.
What’s bound to irk O’Connell, particular, most of all is the Fijians being able to do what they are famed for despite being down a man for the vast majority of the contest. Indeed, they played a chunk of it with 13 and still Ireland didn’t totally extricate themselves from this sticky situation until very late in the day.
That said, before aficionados of the oval ball get consumed with doom, there were flashes of the depth which Ireland now possess from an attacking viewpoint. Brightest among them Ulster’s Nick Timoney.
For as long as this writer can recall, Irish rugby has been top heavy with classy operators in the back row. From Philip Mathews to Brian Robinson, Trevor Brennan, Anthony Foley, Jamie Heaslip, Pete O’Mahony,Sean O’Brien, CJ Stander and on to the myriad possibilties currently available to Andy Farrell.
On that score, Caelen Dorris, Timoney and Jack Conan again put their hands up – collectively and individually – as the business end of the season approaches. Though the long awaited return of Max Deegan was possibly the most heart warming development of all yesterday.
Now, having ingested all that gushing positivity, you’re probably wondering did I affix the above headline erroneously. But no. Because the amount of errors Ireland’s game was pockmarked with would leave a body fearful of the consequences of something happening to some of the front line infantry.
As it is, cover in the half back line is thin enough on the ground. Especially if you take it that Jamisen Gibson-Park should be considered to be the team’s first choice No. 9 – which he should be given how noticeably quicker his passing off the back of scrum than a fading Conor Murray.
It must be said though that one would hope that when crunch times arrive there’s a little more backup on the go than currently seems to be the case. You’d have to feel for both John Cooney and Luke McGrath. The former all but jettisoned on the Irish scene and, extremely regrettably, McGrath appears to be on the same lonely road if not there already.
So, while there might have been have been bits and pieces to enthuse about over the last couple of weeks but there are plenty of onerous challenges ahead. On and off the field. Starting with a pack of wounded Wallabes next Saturday evening.