The Rugby World Cup 2011: Why Ireland Couldn't Make it to the Final
Posted on Friday, October 21, 2011 at 04:57 AM
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With the highly anticipated final of the Rugby World Cup ahead this weekend between France and New Zealand, many Irish fans will look back at this year's tournament as a landmark of success.
The team's victory over Australia, by all means, was historic. However, as far as the tournament itself goes, it had no major effect once Ireland were knocked out by Wales in the quarter finals.
During that victory against the southern hemisphere side, Ireland's pack was dominant and led by a monstrous effort from every forward involved. From Cian Healy at One to Jamie Heaslip at Eight, the Irish forwards were better than each of their Australian counterparts.
However that is a rare occasion for the Irish pack.
Dominating upfront hasn't been Ireland's game in a very long time. Undoubtedly the talent has been there, but the performances have not matched on the field.
This was an issue with the Irish team in the world cup in the match that eventually sent them crashing out of the competition.
Fundamentally, Ireland's issues in the pack emanated from their most celebrated section. Donnacha O'Callaghan and Paul O'Connell are considered two of the best second row players throughout world rugby but in recent years that reputation hasn't really been accurate.
While O'Connell is the more celebrated player, largely due to his lineout work, O'Callaghan is the much more consistent all around performer.
It was very notable during the Wales game that the Welsh were able to get much quicker possession at the breakdown and gain forward momentum on a regular basis. Considering that Ireland had the best back-row in the tournament, that seems a little perplexing.
Cian Healy and Mike Ross had outstanding tournaments while Rory Best is renowned for his aggressive play around the field. Ross is definitely better in the tight and set pieces than as a ball winner.
The Welsh attacked Ireland with eight forwards aggressively getting around the field. With Ross in the side, the Irish were down one player immediately. Ross was still worthy of his place in the team for his set piece strength.
However Ireland couldn't overcome the fact that they were essentially down two forwards in the loose.
Paul O'Connell is a world class talent. However he does not consistently play to that level. O'Connell is consistent as a world class lineout jumper, but his reluctance to hit the breakdown was exposed in Wales.
Too many times O'Connell stood at first receiver to carry the ball. This was the wrong strategy for Ireland as he is not a strong ball carrier. This is not a knock on O'Connell as the nature of the position isn't to be a ball carrier.
O'Connell is too big to break the gain line or gain forward momentum because he is too big a target. Using him as the first receiver as many times as Ireland did, only served to take O'Connell away from the loose and remove chances for better ball carriers such as Sean O'Brien to carry the ball.
Ireland didn't have this problem against Australia as O'Connell was mostly seen disrupting the breakdown or turning the ball over completely. This is as much a reason why Sean O'Brien was able to dominate the game carrying the ball as any.
While Ireland had various other issues that prevented them from surpassing Wales, this was the most significant. Gordon D'Arcy's defense was exposed by Jamie Roberts as well as when Mike Phillips escaped his grasp for the game sealing try.
Ireland's rugby team definitely missed an opportunity ahead of this weekend. Their team had the talent to overcome the Welsh and the French to set up a date with New Zealand. From there anything could have happened in a once off occasion.
This may have been a historic tournament in one aspect, but it was definitely a missed opportunity for Declan Kidney's men.
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