SEAN O’BRIEN WAS still feeling the sting of defeat when the journalists entered the Aviva Stadium mixed zone to find him there, standing alone, waiting to perform the necessary post-match chit-chat.
“Yeah, well we couldn’t get much worse could we?”
Was his short, sharp response to whether he could tell midweek that Ireland would improve from the defeat to Australia. Yesterday, he was forced to experience a whole different kind of frustration.
Against Australia, nothing worked. Against New Zealand, everything did. Both ended in defeat.
“Yeah, I’d say I am angry,” he agreed, “we should have trusted each other in the last couple of minutes – I’d say a lot of the lads are angry at the way it finished.
“We weren’t getting set early enough, not coming off the line at them again and we just needed to want it that little bit more for the last two or three minutes of the game, that’s where you should be trying even harder.”
The openside admitted that the final play of the game had left an awful lot of ‘what if’ scenarios swirling around his head, but anything that sounded remotely like an excuse or a moan was instantly shot down, fatigue especially.
“It’s one of the quickest games I’ve ever played in anyway, so I’m sure there were lads tired alright, but that’s not an excuse. They [New Zealand] weren’t tired, were they?”
Not tired enough, it would seem. Even with the clock gone red, the World Champions had the innate self belief to shift the ball wide where the fresh bodies of Dane Coles and Ryan Crotty combined to overturn the five-point deficit.
A defeat is the reward for Ireland’s astoundingly good performance, but we’ve seen this team go through peaks and troughs before – over the past eight days even. The message emanating from the Irish dressing room was clear; ‘this is the attitude we must bring into every match, not just the ones nobody thinks we can win’.
“If we bring that intensity and work-rate that we had at the start of the game into the Six Nations, then we’ll be in a good place,” says O’Brien after his own solid shift of 16 tackles.
“We’ve set standards in the past and today is one of those, but we’ve to make sure we kick on from there and make sure that’s there every day come Six Nations.”
Great! So, how exactly is that going to happen?
“Lads will have to have a good look at their game; what we did well and didn’t do so well.
“I think we can improve On that performance today. We were obviously annoyed after last week and that fuelled the fire for today along with the day that was in it – history and whatnot – but I think it’s time lads grew up and know what’s expected when they put on an Irish jersey.
“That performance today, we can be proud, but it still wasn’t good enough.”
Maybe not, but it couldn’t have been much better, could it?