10 Dec, 12:23
Ireland's John Lacey will referee his first ever RBS 6 Nations while Alain Rolland is also included in the Elite Panel in what is his last season.
Keith Wood, most likely glad that this season is finally over, was adamant in his view that the postives Ireland can take from this tour most definitely outweigh the negatives as reflected by last Saturdays defeat. Once again Ireland ratteld the cage that is All Blacks rugby yet failed to capitalise on this and once again lost.
Knowing that they can put the All Blacks under pressure will surely do wonders for the confidence of the squad in facing into the coming season, whereby they will take on Australia and Fiji in Novemeber.
Declan Kidney ever positivistic didn't want to call the tour an outright success rather a peicemeal success, and stated that I'd be insulting the boys to call the tour a success, because I know they're striving and working for so much more. We played competively enough. But we want more than that- we want to be winners.
Brian O'Brien sought to disagree with Kidney on this note and commented that From my point of view as a manager I thought it was a very successful tour. Down the road this tour will be of some benefit to us. O'Brien also stated that We were beaten by a better side but down the road this tour will be of some benefit to us.
Were we beaten by a better side? At the end of the day the scoreboard states with harsh certainty that we most certainly were, yet in the match the week previous Ireland did manage to put the All Blacks to the test and pressurised them. A winning margin of 15-6 is not a crushing defeat. Unlucky, not crushing. So what went wrong and why does the winning margin reflect an horrific tally.
So what are the positives to be taken from this tour. The obvious overall collective improvement in the squad, and Wood mentioned five emerging players who most definitely proved their worth during this tour, and should be in contention for a place in next years World Cup squad.
Paul O'Connell, Alan Quinlan Gerodan Murphy, John Kelly, John Hayes, and Girvan Dempsey all proved they get better the more they play.
Whilst Eddie O'Sullivan fumed over the apparent one-sided refereeng of Tappe Henning during Saturdays game, following his penalisation of Ireland nine times in the first half, it must be noted that New Zealand were only penalised three times in that period. O'Sullivan said he was at a loss to understand why this happened, given that Ireland approached the breakdown exactly the same as in the first test match in Dunedin seven days prior.
Ireland suffered a five try mauling at the hands of the All Blacks, a mauling which was in stark contrast to Dunedin, a game in which Ireland dominated most of the play and unfortunately lost 15-6.
Ronan O'Gara's missed penalties most certainly did impact on the Irish performance, but it is unfair to place the blame solely on one player. HIs general game was good in both tests but it must be stated that he had a clear problem with the aptly name pig of a ball. One must remember that any team cannot solely depend on their goal-kicker to win games for them. Unfortunate for Ronan is that he missed four kicks in this match, and Ireland were behind by 20 points by the time he made way for David Humphreys.
Irelands performance in New Zealand wasnt entirely bad. The scrum has been improved upon and revived, the lineout problems resolved and the resilience of the team must not go unnoted. Despite the devastating defeats, Ireland can hold their heads high and build on their strenghts and improvements and look forward to next seasons Six Nations and the upcoming World Cup qualifiers in September.