Jump to main content


All Black And Blue

All Black And Blue

Adrian O’Farrell dusts down his dented optimism to give us his candid review of the GUINNESS Series 2008 clash between Ireland and New Zealand.

And so the number grows. 22 matches without a win against the All Blacks and for the close-run efforts that that bald statistic conceals, we are no closer now to that elusive first win than we were in the 1960s.

The irony is that our best chance of achieving it would appear to be away from home rather than at home.

Google Ad Manager – 300×250 – In Article

This is because of the time of year at which away matches are played, when Ireland, though theoretically tired at the end of a season, can catch the Blacks undercooked in their first match of the season.

I have long held that the default position of Irish rugby supporters is optimism on the basis that it is only this quality that got us through the 1990s intact.

And so, many of us fell into that old ‘sneaky feeling’ trap once again in the build-up. The new coach, many players talking of ‘rejuvenation’, Declan Kidney’s psychological abilities and plain record of success, many players in form, competition for places – there were a number of reasons to be positive.

All of which was reflected in a thumping atmosphere during the preliminaries. When New Zealand unveiled a variation on the haka, the crowd took up the cudgels of Willie Anderson as a guttural roar built up so that the miked-up Blacks could barely be heard.

But after ten minutes of the game on Saturday, Ireland looked shell-shocked. New Zealand had secured 70% of the possession as Ireland struggled to get to grips with the sheer pace of the game.

In the first few minutes we saw some good offensive defence from Ireland as they recovered from Ronan O’Gara’s slow motion blockdown off the first play.

But an underthrow at the first lineout and Girvan Dempsey’s miscued ‘banana kick’ meant we were only getting hands on the ball sporadically and would have been a score down had it not been for a poor decision not to feed Joe Rokocoko by Mils Muliaina and a great tackle by Luke Fitzgerald.

Slowly, however, Ireland clawed their way back into the game. A silly penalty conceded by Jimmy Cowan offered a first territorial foothold, but the ensuing passage told us a lot.

After winning the lineout, Ireland lost three gainline collisions to effectively go backwards while retaining possession, leaving Tomas O’Leary to execute a good kick back to the All Black 22 whence we had started.

A minute later, Tommy Bowe took an inside ball from O’Gara but was hit thunderously by Jerome Kaino and driven backwards.

There are too many ‘men’ on the Irish side to declare it was ‘men against boys’, but the differential in power was clear to behold.

Our forward unit was 21kg lighter than theirs, but there was more to it than that. We could not live with their dynamism.

Allied to this difficulty was the fact that our kicking from hand was as poor as I can remember seeing it. This was only partly accounted for by the pressure the kicker was occasionally under. The New Zealand wingers were never threatened under the ball.

Kidney’s gameplan, I believe, was to be aggressive in defence and augment that with a pressure kicking game in the belief that we had an advantage in the kicking area.

This never materialised, and indeed the All Black back-three have rarely looked so good in a kicking duel. But this was because they had so much time on the ball due to so many Irish kicks being overcooked.

What was encouraging was that despite these major fault lines, Ireland managed to reinsert themselves into the game between the 13th and 39th minutes.

Yes, we were fortunate to have Dan Carter miss a couple of sitters, but we rectified a misfiring lineout and started to sneak a couple of turnovers, courtesy of Brian O’Driscoll and Fitzgerald.

We became a little more ambitious with ball in hand, threatening somewhat with a classic ‘hands free’ feed from O’Driscoll to free David Wallace before Muliaina intercepted and Wallace again surging through only to be unable to link with Bowe.

And then the curtain effectively came down with the penalty try in first half injury-time. There was a shout for a penalty for taking out O’Driscoll when he chipped down the line, but the referee was having none of it as he looked to go down a bit easily. From then on we were in deep trouble.

You had to have some sympathy with Bowe, but at the same time the referee’s interpretation was absolutely correct, and ultimately Bowe should have tried to play the ball on its merits and taken his chances.

Despite Tony Woodcock’s binning on 42 minutes, the game effectively ended when Rokocoko fed Ma’a Nonu to go past a hobbling Paul O’Connell in midfield. Game over.

Five minutes later, it became an exercise in damage limitation when Brad Thorn did likewise.

Unfortunately, earlier in the afternoon, South Africa were not able to bring their power differential to play in quite the same way against Scotland and by finishing within 15 points of their conquerors, while we were not able to do likewise would have lost less rating points than we did.

This leaves us in the highly precarious position whereby if we lose to Argentina and Scotland beat Canada, then we will drop to ninth place.

The significance of this is that we will therefore draw two teams in the top eight in the world for our World Cup group instead of drawing one from the top eight and one from the ninth to 12th positions.

Currently that is the difference between being in a group with one of the top four plus one of Argentina, France, Wales or Scotland or being in a group with one of the top four plus Scotland, Italy, Fiji or Samoa.

That is quite a difference. Brace yourself for a host of ‘group of death’ headlines if we go down against our old friends the Pumas next Saturday.

Fogra: (well, if the Croke Park authorities insist on the announcements being ‘as Gaeilge’ as a condition of rental, that’s good enough for me)…

Congratulations to the supporters on Saturday for an immaculately observed minute’s silence in memory of Shane Geoghegan. If ever we needed perspective around a rugby defeat…