Whilst conceding that he and his team-mates require a massive performance to qualify for the World Cup quarter-finals next weekend, Ireland hooker Jerry Flannery also launched a staunch defence of the Irish camp and coach Eddie O’Sullivan following criticism and rumours that appeared in the press in recent days.
Ireland started last Friday’s game against France with the target of beating the World Cup hosts and booking their place in the quarter-finals a week early. However, a third poor performance in quick succession – the French pulled clear for a 25-3 victory – now has Flannery and company scrambling for their World Cup lives.
“It’s going to take a massive performance from us to get through,” confessed Flannery on Sunday. The Irish now need a bonus point win over Argentina to progress to the last eight, with an added requirement that the Pumas do not pick up a losing bonus point.
“Last week, before the French game, I spoke about holding on to the ball, not turning it over and cutting out all of our silly little mistakes but there were lots of poor things we did in the French game.
“Our discipline was bad, they mauled us well, our set-piece wasn’t as sturdy as it usually is and we still coughed up a lot of ball. These are all the small things we’ve got to cut out of game.
“I was enjoying the French game. I felt we were well in it and I could feel that things were coming together for us but the break of a ball and to keep giving away those penalties, it really cost us. So, it’s back on us again to bring our performance levels back up again for next weekend’s game against Argentina,” added the 20-times capped hooker.
Although insisting that there are no “off the pitch” problems in the Irish camp, Flannery can understand why pundits and supporters are trying to pinpoint where things are going wrong, given the team’s displays in France to date.
“I understand the frustration that people are dealing with because of the way the results are going. When you recall the expectation for us going into the World Cup, we haven’t performed. That’s why I suppose they’re thinking there must be something going on out there and they’re looking for reasons.
“It would be very easy if there was one but there isn’t. The problem is on the pitch, not off it. Off the pitch, there isn’t a problem.
“On the pitch we haven’t played well, we’ve been our own worst enemies with the mistakes we’ve made and that has cost us more than anything. Weak players go into their shell at times like this and I suppose it’s a good test of your character to be able to give a big performance again next week and that’s what we’ll all be trying to do.”
Asked specifically about the unfounded rumours about the Irish camp that have been doing the rounds at home and abroad, Flannery said: “I’ve heard stuff like we’re always fighting in training, people are walking out of the camp and loads of other s**t. I don’t know where it’s coming from but it’s not true.
“It would make for a nice sound-bite if all the lads were falling apart over here but we wouldn’t have managed so well for so long in each other’s company if we fell apart after a bad result.
“We’re not where we want to be at the World Cup at the moment so people are naturally disappointed. But we’re looking forward to the next game.
“Everyone’s still getting on well. If you’re in a winning side, everyone’s happy because everything is going great. When you’re losing, everyone’s a little bit more down, but this idea that we’re all bickering is not true. It genuinely isn’t true.”
The Munster forward added: “This is the first time I’ve ever experienced this kind of thing. My girlfriend got passed on an email last week listing some of the stuff that’s supposed to have happened over here.
“Some of the stuff is just crazy – Geordan Murphy walking out of the camp, or some of the lads being seen in Northern Ireland on the p**s. It’s just ridiculous.”
Flannery said he and his team-mates were “appalled” by the article written in L’Equipe newspaper last week which made wild accusations about the personal life of out-half Ronan O’Gara.
“Ronan’s a friend of mine and he’s disgusted with what’s gone on. That’s his own private life and I don’t know why it’s in the press. Everyone’s good friends with Ronan and to see one of our mates treated like that is appalling for all of us,” Flannery added.
The hooker, who turns 29 next month, also hit out at the media for their criticism of Eddie O’Sullivan in recent weeks, insisting that the players should be blamed for the below par displays against Namibia, Georgia and France.
“I think it’s very unfair (to criticise Eddie) to be honest. I don’t see how he can be singled out so much. Eddie isn’t coaching us to drop the ball! So, if we go out and drop the ball it’s our fault.
“It’s the same in any rugby team. A coach prepares the team as best he can and then they go out on the field and do the job. All the best teams are coached by the players out on the field. We’re not performing on the field so the buck stops with us.”