Ireland coach Eddie O’Sullivan readily admits that his team have a tough job on their hands to make the World Cup quarter-finals but countered that it is far from being a case of mission impossible at this juncture.
Ireland may have brushed aside both Namibia and Georgia over the past week, but the performances of Brian O’Driscoll and his players left so much to be desired that there is now the very real threat that Ireland will not feature in the quarter-finals for the second time in three World Cups.
Ireland’s spirit-sapping displays in Bordeaux have been hard to sum up and O’Sullivan has also been struggling to put words on why exactly his side have struggled so far in the tournament.
“It’s not that we’ve trained any differently. We’ve trained very hard. We’ve prepared for these games as we prepared for any other games, like in the Six Nations,” he explained at the team hotel today.
“The work the lads have put in has been right up there. We’ve been as assiduous in our preparations as we have been for any Test game. Even this week we worked harder than we did the previous week, and we worked hard the previous week.
“I wish I could tell you exactly why we’re not firing on all cylinders at the moment because it’s very frustrating for everyone, I appreciate that. It’s frustrating for the supporters and I can appreciate that too. But it’s equally as frustrating for the players. It’s not like we’re not working on this but it just hasn’t clicked yet. Not more than 12 hours after the last performance (against Namibia), I don’t have a magic answer to be honest with you.”
At least Ireland know that if they beat hosts France, whom they meet next Friday, a quarter-final berth will be theirs and the September 30 clash with familiar foes Argentina will then become a straight shoot-out for Pool D’s top spot.
With nine points in the bag, captain Brian O’Driscoll remains optimistic, pointing out that there is “still all to play for”, but the Leinster centre and O’Sullivan both know they are facing an uphill battle over the next fortnight.
“I wouldn’t say it’s mission impossible but it’s certainly looking like a hard job at the moment. It’s a hard mountain to climb, the way we’re playing at the moment,” O’Sullivan said.
“But the lads felt a lot better about last night’s game because they felt that we’d actually played better rugby. They were still frustrated when we turned the ball over. They felt the Georgians were very difficult to play against and to be fair to the Georgians they capitalised on our mistakes.
“And they pinned us back inside our own half. They defended well from there and they made us defend as well. So, I would say that there’s a bit of a mountain to climb. I’m not avoiding that. But I don’t believe it’s impossible.”
O’Sullivan will announce his team and replacements for the French game tomorrow afternoon and was giving little away as to what sort of selection he expects to field, although hooker Rory Best has emerged as an injury doubt.
“Rory Best’s thumb may be problematic. He dislocated his thumb during the game against Georgia. There’s always a worry with a dislocation that there is something sinister there. It was quite sore last night so he will have a scan today to make sure everything’s okay, but I am concerned by it.”
Asked about his team selection for the Stade de France trip, O’Sullivan said: “We could have made changes against Georgia if we’d played very well against Namibia, but we didn’t so we had to stick with what we had. We have to pick the team through the tournament as we see it.
“I’m not going to pick the team 12 hours after the match has finished. We do have to look at the performances but I’m not going to predict what I’ll do with the selection. I’ll look in more detail at the performance.”
Another worry for Ireland is that number eight Denis Leamy could yet be cited for an apparent stamp on a Georgian player during the first half of last night’s match.
Asked his opinion on the incident and a possible citing, O’Sullivan said: “You never know because they (the disciplinary chiefs) are being so strict. Denis stood on the guy’s toe. It looked at the time he might have been going for someone’s head because his head was right beside it. But he stood on the guy’s toe and I don’t think they’ll take any action.”