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Dublin: 9 °C Friday 26 April, 2019
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Opinion: Boks were there for the taking, and we left it behind us once again

‘If the off pitch leadership is not good enough then the decision-making and execution on the pitch will follow suit.’

Ireland's Jamie Heaslip dejected at the final whistle.
Ireland's Jamie Heaslip dejected at the final whistle.
Image: INPHO/James Crombie

THIS WAS AN appalling game of rugby at the end of which neither team will feel good about themselves.

It was a case of two teams trying to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Unfortunately Ireland won.

I don’t believe I have seen a worse display from a South African side before and they still beat Ireland.

One has to first look at some of the indicators leading up to the game to understand the source of our problems. Firstly you have confusion over whether Kearney, O’Driscoll and O’Connell would be fit. They went from being doubtful to definitely playing to needing operations.  What was going on? That’s the medical side.

Next we must look at selection. Parachuting Michael Bent into the squad could only have a negative impact. This is not a reflection on Bent but on Declan Kidney. Bent — when he came on — did his job in the scrum. That isn’t the point.

Anyone who understands team sport at any level knows you can’t introduce a player into a squad in that manner. Had he come here and played his way in over a period it would be fine. I have no problem with anyone who earns the right to play. By that I don’t mean qualify but earns his stripes by playing as all the other squad members had to do. We must ask ourselves though why were we so desperate in the first place? This problem didn’t occur last week.

The IRFU have been procrastinating over the appointment of a scrum coach to tackle our propping dilemma. In addition they insist on a rule at schools level that effectively means props don’t learn to prop until they leave school. We are alone as a major rugby nation in imposing this rule.  For a country which has traditionally produced a steady supply of world class props to be so bereft of them is unacceptable and unnecessary. You get what you deserve.

‘He is not and never has been a centre’

Finally the failure to bring through and develop our talent shows a deficiency in our management and coaching of them on an individual basis. Take Keith Earls. He is not and never has been a centre. He thinks he is. Management need to get him to understand that he is not but that he is a very talented winger. If he was handled properly he would see the benefit to himself of playing on the wing. His pace and angles of running could make him a very potent weapon in a roaming role on the wing. This would afford him the opportunity to get more involved but using his strengths.

Simon Zebo does have pace and talent but he is very raw. Were the Boks better prepared they would have exploited his selection. In fact with so many full backs injured I would have played Keith Earls there as a once off. Whilst not his best position  he can play there, unlike at centre. He is also experienced and has played there at this level before.

All this before we look at the game and how we approached it. Ireland never looked like scoring a try. In the first half we had lots of possession but were rudderless. We ran across the pitch all day. Our forward runners did everything from a standing start. There was no attempt to put pace on the ball. It made the job easy for South Africa defensively.

Our kicking out of hand was poor, missing touch at vital times when we needed to get it, trying dinky little kicks when we needed to put it over the top or kick it long. If your decision making is poor, execution becomes a bigger problem because you are now trying to do the wrong thing. The really frustrating thing was that it was not a bad Irish team who took the pitch yesterday but they played poorly and failed to beat a side they should have beaten.

There were some good performances, notably Mike McCarthy , Ricardt Strauss and Chris Henry. Henry is not a natural openside but he is a good professional and goes about his business accordingly. McCarthy had an outstanding match.

Others also played well as individuals but as a team there was no clear intent. If you’re looking for quick ball is Conor Murray the man? If you look at his first few internationals he was much quicker in his delivery. I believe that apart from his size the core problem is his decisiveness.

The scrum half must be consistently more decisive than any other position on the pitch. He has so little time and that’s the way you want it otherwise the ball becomes too slow. Ireland needs a quick ball to score tries. We are not going to out-muscle the big teams. I believe Conor Murray is a huge talent but I’m not convinced he is getting the direction he needs to maximise that talent.

Yesterday, Ireland with so many missing should still have beaten South Africa.

We are now consistently producing players but our organisation and management is not at the level required. If the off pitch leadership is not good enough then the decision-making and execution on the pitch will follow suit.

It is why our greatest generation of players have one grand slam when they should have four and Wales have four when they should have one.

Emmet O’Rafferty,  former second row forward for Leinster and chairman of Top Security which operates a security business in Ireland and South Africa.

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About the author:

Emmet O’Rafferty

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