Welcome to the RWC2019 Debriefs. The World Cup is now over and a new 4 year cycle begins, but the first stage of any cycle should be looking back at how things went – what went wrong and what went right – before looking on to how things go for the next cycle to ensure qualification to RWC2023 (if they haven’t automatically qualified) and to make sure they enter that tournament in peak form.
I will be going through these debriefs alphabetically, so today I will be casting my eye over Ireland.
Ireland automatically qualified by topping Pool D at RWC2015, a tournament that saw them go out at the quarterfinals.
After looking so strong in 2018, things started going wrong almost straight away this year, with a number of their big names looking far from their best. They were manhandled by England at home to start off the Six Nations, where they eventually finished 3rd after wins against France, Scotland and Italy.
In the World Cup warm-up matches, they were again manhandled by England, but beat Italy and did the business against Wales both at home and away, with their pack in particular coming on strong at he set piece.
- Pool Stages (2nd in Pool A)
- Ireland 27-3 Scotland
- Japan 19-12 Ireland
- Ireland 35-0 Russia
- Ireland 47-5 Samoa
- New Zealand 46-14 Ireland
I think it’s safe to call this a pretty mixed tournament for Ireland. Coming into the tournament, I felt that the opener against Scotland would be the pool decider. Maybe Ireland thought so too as they came out the gates hard. The forwards were too physical for Scotland to deal with and the backs took advantage of the space they were creating to dominate the game.
They seemed unable to reach the same heights in their next match, however. Taking on hosts Japan, they started strongly in the first half hour, but faded off as they found themselves unable to sufficiently break down an impressive Japanese defence and struggled to cope with an attack that kept possession and played a high tempo, with Joey Carbery eventually kicking the ball out at the end to preserve a losing bonus point rather than push for a win. A 5-try victory over Russia felt better than they deserved as they lacked creativity on the whole against one of the lowest-ranked teams in the tournament, though they did a good job to stay defensively solid and keep a clean sheet. Against Samoa, they took a big lead early on with 3 tries in the first quarter, which set them up well against a poor Samoa team to hold on for a victory despite losing Bundee Aki to a red card after 30 minutes, dominating possession and territory.
The Scotland match aside, there was very little to suggest they were hitting form going into the knockouts, and sadly for Irish fans, that proved the case. Against New Zealand, it’s hard t even suggest there were 2 teams in the game as they were thoroughly outclassed by the defending champions. Ireland didn’t turn up at all in the opening 40 minutes and it could be argued that it wasn’t until Jordan Larmour and Joey Carbery replaced Rob Kearney and Johnny Sexton respectively that the Ireland attack appeared to have any teeth… too late to do anything more than give Joe Schmidt a little consolation in his final match coaching the team.
Ireland are in a very interesting position right now. With the 4 provinces all looking good, and with the IRFU’s player management policy, there is plenty of talent coming through to add to the stars already at the top of the game. Already in this squad, there are established players like Jordan Larmour, Garry Ringrose, Joey Carbery, Tadhg Furlong, Luke McGrath, Andrew Porter and Jacob Stockdale who are already incredible talents but are arguably still to hit their peak.
The interesting thing will be at the other end of the age scale. Rory Best has hung up his boots, which will make space for the other great talents at the position. It’s hard to imagine Sexton or Kearney carrying on much longer as they head into their mid-thirties, so now would be the perfect time to move on to the younger talents who are pushing through.
Even if they are not moved on immediately, I think that too many of Ireland’s 2018 stars were being picked on the strength of their name in 2019, so players like Sexton, Kearney, CJ Stander, Peter O’Mahony, Keith Earls and Conor Murray need to earn their spots in the squad with so much depth behind them. Will new head coach Andy Farrell stick with the tried and trusted for his Six Nations, or will he start looking to the future straight away and building a squad with a view to glory in 2023? We’ll find out in a couple of months.