An Irish Lesson

21 03 2011

Re-reading our piece we published on Thursday last previewing the weekend’s rugby, we obviously got it wrong with our prediction that England would prevail by a small margin. That we got it wrong is not much of a surprise – we do after all frequently get things wrong (predictions are a fools game to be honest) – but it was that we got it so wrong that was a surprise.

Up until the final round on Saturday, Ireland had been a distinctly middling side who were lucky not to have been beaten by Italy and lost to both France and Wales. There had been the odd sign of life with a rare sprightly move now and again although too often the good work was undone by some basic errors. If we were honest, the suspicion had been growing that perhaps this was a side on the way down – something that does happen to Ireland in a World Cup year it seems.

Yet, in this final round of matches, Ireland played fantastically well and simply dominated England from the off. It was clinical. It was precise and it was, above all else, powerful. England came to Dublin looking for a Grand Slam only to be shown exactly how far they still have to improve if they want to progress to the later stages of the World Cup.

As a Kiwi friend of the Compulsive Hooker commented to us shortly after the game, Ireland had played similarly to this against New Zealand in the Autumn but still got beaten by 20 points. England didn’t have that extra gear that the All Blacks did that day and so were consigned to defeat although, to be entirely just to Martin Johnson’s team, this comparison is a little unfair as no other team in world rugby – not even the Springboks or the Australians – have the same ability to ‘flick the switch’ as the AB’s currently do.

What does this mean though moving forward for both of these sides?

England will, on reflection, be happy enough with the progress made. They topped the table, something they hadn’t done for 8 years, and on balance are probably still the northern hemisphere side most likely to make an impact at the World Cup in October. This has to be balanced against the fact though that twice in the last few months England have simply been blown away by a more physical side (South Africa in the Autumn and Ireland now) – something that will need remedying.

Ireland too will be happy. They have showed exactly how well they can play – as we implied above, we think they would have beaten both Australia and South Africa playing like this – although consistency is obviously still an issue. The friendlies in the Summer take on a larger significance now as if they can continue in the same vein suddenly a win over Australia in the group stages and an easier route to the semi’s is eminently possible.

So to round up; well played Ireland on Saturday and congratulations to England for winning the Six Nations.

Roll on the World Cup…

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