Rob’s Rugby World Cup Round Up Weekend 5

Sorry this took so long, I am colossally gutted.

One. North versus South. All southern hemisphere semis has led to much wailing in the north, b whose great hopes were all crushed in a variety of horrid ways.

“They’re faster than us!”

“They’re more skilful than us!”

Those two things are both true. The SH teams are generally quicker than us, and on balance they have more offloading skill than us.

However, these are also individual test matches. They ebb and hinge on what happens over 80 minutes as well as broader trends. Sure, France were abject, tell us something we don’t know. The All Blacks fed them 60; but for knock ons and injuries Ireland could’ve handed them similar. As an aside you have to worry for France. They’ve wasted 4 years under an eejit coach, their domestic game is all set for expensive foreign imports over developing French talent, and their youth system is geared to size and power at the exact time the rest of world is slimming and priotising skill. I worry it will get worse before it gets better for them.

But an exhausted Wales who were bringing on injured players pushed Wales the distance. An Ireland team shorn of a third of its starters lost to Argentina for the first time in 8 years. Scotland should be in the semis. While I retain the right to critique those mitigating factors later, there are mitigating factors.

In fact, while the focus is on skills, I’d say its actually our competition that undoes us. The 6 Nations is magnificent but I wonder if the pressure for success there undoes us. The Rugby Championship teams have all blooded younger players in that tournament who’ve been able to fit in. An injury to Sexton means Ireland bring in Madigan who played an hour in the 6N.

Perhaps it’s a self fulfilling prophecy. As an Ireland fan i feel we can’t win the world cup, so I prioritise success in the 6N which hampers longer term planning. Better pathways are what’s needed. Or maybe I’m talking bollocks.

Two. Referees. I’m going to say something then immediately contradict myself here, I think.

First off, I have been slightly dismayed by the reaction of some ex players, in particularly Scottish ones to the Joubert hoohaa. I think referee’s performances should be under scrutiny; else how can they improve?

However some of the stuff players like Hastings have been coming out with have just been bitter bile and it leaves a supremely bad taste. I would an environment where we can constructively critique referees without resorting to the he said she said tittle tattle of officiating in association football which is ruining that sport. I have a season ticket at QPR and week in week out I see the referee put the whistle in his mouth and bottle making marginal calls because he can not be bothered with the aggro. Seeing some pundits call it the worst piece of refereeing ever and a disgrace; he got a penalty call wrong. At university I told a referee that one of my players was being racially abused — he ignored me. That was a disgrace.

After all, we often place far too much onus on individual errors rather than say a referee’s broader interpretation of laws around say the scrum and the breakdown in their effect on results. That’s before we even get to the play. The penalty was incorrect, but Scotland collect an easy line out, they’re in the semis. Garces should have sent off Herrerra, but 17–0 down after about 20 minutes, can I look myself in the face and say that’s why Ireland lost?

However, the standard of international refereeing isn’t up to scratch. Believe me, I understand how hard it is, I refereed a game once and was an unmitigated failure. I often took instructions of what to do from my own team’s number 8, and players do not react well when your decision ends in a question mark. “Scrum red?”

Jonathan Kaplan, a ref I had great affection for due to his knack for overseeing Ireland victories and now oversees the referee panel says they’re about 4 light. In my opinion only Owens and Barnes are up to scratch. Barnes annoys the hell out of me, he’s such a belter, blowing his whistle like its an acid house night, but his consistency has come up significantly last few years.

There is however a large raft of officials — in my opinion noticeably Clancy and Joubert — that are just outright terrible, and others (Garces) whose interpretation of the laws is seemingly unique and makes it hard for players to adjust. I feel World Rugby needs to look at widening the base of referees and its probably time for Joubert to be rolled off the elite list.

Three. Ireland. Oh boy was that disappointing, not least as I had semi tickets lined up. Which probably cursed us in fairness.

I’ve seen injuries cited, but I’m not buying that. Sure, one try down so early I’m sure Sexton would’ve got us playing higher up the pitch with his tactical kicking, or Paulie would’ve shouted about fear, but the guys who came in were no schmucks. European cup winners, 6 Nations winners, so many crunch games. Nor too do I buy that Argentina had the benefit of a longer break. They looked fresher for sure, but we were happy to be one of the only teams to have a full week between our pool games. Such is the draw.

No, Ireland’s undoing was a combination of passive line speed, which allowed Argentina to implement their impressive offloading game, and the basics of far too many first up tackles missed — Dave Kearney missing 7 out of 9 attempts (I had to rewrite that sentence to avoid a Star Trek Voyager reference). Our defence was as passive as I’ve ever seen it under Schmidt, rarely bringing down the attacker cleanly to allow a breakdown contest, and with Argentinian carriers often making massive gains beyond the advantage line. In fact Argentina’s opening plays were very Schmidt esque. Joe loves a power play at key moments when the opposition may have turned off slightly; the starts and ends of halves usually key. Felt horrible being on the receiving end of them.

Argentina’s second try was a key example of this. Ireland hang off in defence allowing Sanchez to slow the play to bring Henandez onto the ball who injects pace into his pass out wide, the varied speeds having manufactured a dog leg in defence, not just in the wide channel but by dragging Rob Kearney in meaning there’s no one covering the kick through.

AND YET, we dragged ourselves back into the contest, and that’s what really stung. A Madigan kick away from parity. Had the kick been made and Herrerra sent off, you feel the game was on a knife edge. Our replacements, notably Jack McGrath and Luke Fitz really shifted the game in our favour, and Argentina felt on the wobble. When Murphy went over I almost burst a blood vessel screaming. A text from my brother in law “We’ve fucking got them”.

But Ireland struggled badly against a team who so effectively chop tackled. We lost the collisions not actually but brute force but by Argentina’s exceptional technique and a lethal kicking boot that always kept us behind. One thing Schmidt has struggled with is when Ireland are behind and have to chase we don’t look nearly as slick and that penultimate try clearly broke an exhausted team, Argentina excellent value for their win. And with the work they’ve done to expand the game there, hard to begrudge them, especially seeing Pichot goings nuts at full time. They were given an ovation in the pub I was in

A mention again for Rory Best who I thought was absolutely tremendous once again, often trying to hold back a blue and white tide on his own at the breakdown, and also for Chris Henry who has been slated in the Irish media despite trying to hold back Argentina almost solo as Jordi Murphy, despite stat impressing two turnovers and a try, was near anonymous. I feel Henderson to 6 might have been a better shout as he exhausted himself in the narrow channels but was unable to have a wider impact that he could’ve done from blindside, allowing Donnacha Ryan to add a bit of grunt and dog to the pack. And poor Mad Dog had a torrid time. He was dropped in with a day’s notice and it really showed. With Sexton returning to Leinster maybe a move to 12 beckons, allowing PJ to step in at 10 for Ireland as Sexton moves on without the pressure of goalkicking, much how Leinster brought Sexton in alongside Contemponi.

Another quarter final, Argentina again. What can we do to break this hoodoo? This was supposed to beit, our big chance! And it was over in 9 minutes. Sadface.

Four. A fond adieu then to Rala, Ireland and the Lions’ legendary bag man who retired after the game. A rugby man through and through, he’s probably sick of the players sellotaping him to chairs or shaving his head while he sleeps. Have a great retirement.

Five. My compliments to Doheny & Nesbitt’s of Baggot Street in Dublin for their hospitality during our multiple visits there for rugby over the weekend. A finer rugby pub I have yet to find; though being perched at the bar with your own personal barman has its drawbacks (especially on a tab eeeek). It’s also recently been voted the best pub in the world in some thing. If you’re ever in town, highly recommended.

Six. Wales. Broke my heart, it really did. They gave it absolutely everything. Everything. They were bringing on injured players. And for everything it took a South African moment of magic in the dying embers to undo them. They can be very proud of themselves. They just couldn’t work their way into the second half to exude the same impact they’d had in the first, and naturally tired towards the end.

I’m often critical of Gatland because he’s a knob, and he plays dour rugby, but this is not to undermine my impression of what he has achieved. With the grass roots in near terminal decline and the central body always one step away from complete implosion, Gatland regularly takes Wales to levels far beyond and overperforms way beyond their domestic base. Given what his squad had endured in injury terms, to be in striking distance of the semis was a hell of an accomplishment.

Seven. The most Scottish defeat of all time? And yet, one feels like they need this to be a watershed for them if Scottish rugby is to progress. When Ireland lost to New Zealand a few years ago, the only thing that gave me hope was the usual “Ah we gave it a lash” stuff was absent. In the full time interview Sean O’Brien was instead livid that the defensive systems hadn’t been trusted and called the defeat “embarrassing”. So far I’ve just seen lots of “Scotland the brave”. That needs to be shaken off, and isn’t helped by the refereeing decision. Facts are if Scotland had recouped a simple line out, they’d be in the semi final. The standard they hit versus Australia need to become the norm.

Eight. All looks pretty ominous for a New Zealand win doesn’t it.

Nine. Fuck. I’m still not over Ireland losing. Fuck. I’m going out to smash a table