Well, it’s a week since Ireland’s great performance against the New Zealand and the pain of that last-minute defeat still lingers! The players put in the performance of their lives and still came away without a victory. Now the focus must turn to the 2014 Six Nations.
The 2012/’13 Season was a poor one for Ireland. While the team were superb in the match against the All Blacks, they rarely even approached that level in the rest of their games . In recent years, Ireland have being disappointing, with the last season being one of the very worst ever. Ireland played 12 games in the last 12 months, winning 6, drawing 1 and losing 5.
On the face of it that doesn’t seem a very bad result, but the wins came against teams like Canada, Fiji and Samoa and the performances hardly rose above mediocre. The losses included defeats to Italy and Scotland and resulted in Ireland just avoiding the ‘Wooden Spoon’.
It was Ireland’s worst sustained performance in a 5/6 Nations since the dark days of the early ’90’s, when Ireland were lucky to avoid the ‘Wooden Spoon’. Aside from the performance against New Zealand, and about 30 minutes against Wales, Ireland played at a consistently poor level throughout the season.
The Irish players showed that they were capable of tremendous performances, as they have done before, but those performances must become the norm and not ones built out of desperation. Only then can we achieve that which we are capable of.
Fans watching the match last Sunday would have experienced deja vu from Ireland’s quarter-final performance against Australia in the 1991 World Cup. There too, it looked like Ireland would achieve a stunning upset, only to have our dreams shattered in the dying minutes of the game.
That ’91 side should have taken their performance in that game as a motivation for the next year’s 5 Nations. Instead, they managed to bottle their ability and came away with the ‘Wooden Spoon’ that year (they lost all 4 games).
Last Sunday’s players (especially the forwards) should remember the fact that for 80 minutes they led the New Zealand All Blacks. For all but the dying minutes of the match they were the superior team on the field. Few players, of any nationality, can lay claim to that distinction.
Credit where it’s due, New Zealand achieved an amazing record, going through a whole season undefeated and winning every game they played. It’s not surprising that New Zealand were the first (and so far only) country to achieve this.
The New Zealand All Blacks have a winning mentality. They go into a match with assurance that they’ll win and 9 times out of 10, they’re right (they have a winning ratio against every other rugby team). It’s true to say that New Zealand never celebrate the games they almost won.
Ireland showed that it can match the All Blacks and surpass them. The players showed that, when at their best, they need fear no team. They just need to harness that for every game (and keep it until the final whistle).
Ireland have a tougher itinerary for the next 6 Nations, playing France and England (traditionally the tougher sides) away from home. While Ireland have managed to draw the last 2 matches against France, that’s not saying much as France have being 1 of the worse teams in the 6 Nations in recent years.
To be frank, every 1 of Ireland’s opponents in the 6 Nations poses a threat to them. Leinster were already a great team with a great record when Joe Schmidt took over the reins. He’s working with a lesser pedigree in this case. If Ireland can match perform to their best and sustain it for the 5 games, then we’re looking at another Grand Slam.