A rough guide to rugby, with the Rugby World Cup looming and destined to be fol...
So it's been a few days (and a few drinks) since Ireland's capitulation to England and after deciding to give it a bit of time, I have come to the same conclusion as I did when Ross Byrne kicked out on the full early in the second half:
What is with Ireland when it comes to the Rugby World Cup?
Each tournament seems to be close to a complete disaster for Ireland and it's something that just continues to happen to them nearly every tournament. Will this tournament be different? If the current World Cup warm up games are anything to go by then no, no it won't.
If you look at the history of Ireland in Rugby World Cups it reads as follows:
Most of the World Cups that Ireland has taken part in have had one recurring theme, immense disappointment. Whether it be at the group stage or quarter-final stage Ireland just never seem to be able to turn it on for the games that really matter. In the entire span of the Rugby World Cup we have defeated Wales once, France once and Argentina once. We have been beaten by every other major nation except South Africa and England (because we haven’t played them yet).
Some nations such as Australia have this fantastic knack of being able to peak for World Cup time. I would even include Argentina in that bracket. Ireland seem to have the opposite effect of being able to go into World Cups or conclude the World Cups at a really low ebb.
In fact for Joe Schmidt's reign as Ireland coach, the worst moment up till this year was the defeat against Argentina in 2015. I say up to this year because a couple of things have happened that would have me concerned as to how the 2019 World Cup will go for the men in green.
Ireland's warm-up games haven't exactly gone to plan. The real concern is that it even goes back prior to these. It goes back to the game between Ireland and England in Lansdowne Road where England basically shattered the aura that Ireland had built up over the course of the last two years.
In that time, we had beaten every other major nation and were coming into the Six Nations as one of the favorites for not only the Six Nations but also a serious contender for the World Cup. Since that England game though Ireland's performances have seemed to be on an increasingly worrying downward trajectory. While the England game was bad, the Wales game to conclude the Six Nations was possibly worse.
However, it was the England game where the aura was really shattered. Now for many teams, there are certain games where you can basically put them in the bracket of “Alls changed, changed utterly”. The Invincibles of Arsenal when they got beaten by Manchester United comes to mind as does when Barcelona beat Man United in the 2009 Champions League Final
For this Ireland team, and in fact, for many Ireland teams over the last couple of years, there has been one game that has signaled the beginning of the end
This goes back to 1999 when Argentina beat Ireland and has continued on in this thread throughout the noughties and throughout the last couple of years as well. Think Georgia in the 2007 World Cup and when New Zealand beat Ireland 60-0 when Ireland toured there in 2012. I think you can now put England's win in Lansdowne Road into that category as well. It was even highlighted that after the game, the players were shattered.
In the recent England game, Ireland looked directionless. When they were attacking it was clear from miles out where they were looking to go. Compare that to England who was able to basically do whatever they wanted. This also relates to the defense where our once much-vaunted defense missed 1 in 4 attempted tackles. That is a terrifying stat, especially when you consider the defensive coach Andy Farrell will also be the next head coach for Ireland.
The fact also remains that the game against England was the worst defeat that Ireland have had against them. Now when you consider that also factors in the 90s, it tells you just how bad it was for Ireland. If you asked an Irish fan about the 90s they would break out in a cold sweat.
Key players also seem to have severely underperformed. For example, CJ Stander appears to be a shadow of the player that he was and is highlighted in my preview for the World Cup. I doubt that he will be the starting number eight for Ireland against Scotland.
There are also big concerns when it comes to Rory Best as to whether he has stayed for maybe too long. Also, there is the fact when it comes to games this year, Ireland has now suffered three defeats to major nations since January. As was recently highlighted by Lawrence Dallaglio, if you want to really be doing something during a World Cup year, one defeat is about the maximum that you can afford. Ireland has lost nearly as many as they did in the previous two years combined.
Our Group - The biggest benefit for Ireland in the last couple of years of consistent play has been that in terms of Rugby World Cup pools, this one is a manageable one. Ireland has been able to beat all of the major nations in the last couple of years in this pool. Scotland would appear to be the biggest thrash.
At the same time, for Ireland, this in and of itself means the Scotland game will be as important as the France game was in the last World Cup. If they can get through the Scotland game with the win, then it gives them a huge opportunity to top the pool. Even when Ireland wasn't performing well in the Six Nations, they were able to come out on top against Scotland in Merrifield.
That first weekend will define Ireland's World Cup. Defeat in this game and it could be a terrible spiral as Ireland will have only six days to recover before they take on the host Japan in their own backyard. That is how important the game against Scotland is for Ireland.
I've been trying to think of some other positives for Ireland heading into this Rugby World Cup
It's vital that Ireland put in a good performance in the next two games against Wales to help build some momentum going into the crucial game against Scotland. A victory next weekend would be highly unlikely. However, if they could get some momentum from a win in Lansdowne then this would definitely be a big bonus for them.
Overall though, this would appear to be a case of history repeating itself and when it comes to the Rugby World Cup, Ireland just doesn't ever seem to be able to arrive at peak performance. Will this happen again in the 2019 version of the tournament? If the last couple of months is anything to go by, then yes.
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