We’re not suggesting for a moment that new manager Greg McWilliams delved into Eddie Jones’ playbook for diversionary tactics ahead of the Six Nations draw with Italy in Cork. But we’ll admit that the cynic in us saw a “Justice for Beibh” motif going up the mast. Or “Bae” to give him the nickname used by McWilliams. If you’re facing a solid week talking about a far from solid free-kick, then defending a pick decision in an area of strength – wide attacking ability – is a relief.
first, the set piece. Scrum coach Rob Sweeney was very optimistic about the gains to be made by tweaking some of the nuts and bolts that were tossed around like confetti in Toulouse last weekend. Are the Irish strikers a good group to work with? Stellar, apparently. Obviously, they’re driven to be better, which improves the environment for coaches, and they’re madly eager to learn. Awesome.
Well, here’s an uncomfortable truth not unrelated to the dilemma facing our men in green: if you don’t have a herd of beasts to bring to the fray against the handful of the best nations in the world, you will be shunted either down or backwards. Maybe all three. And if the men’s game here – a giant business compared to the cottage industry that is women’s rugby – doesn’t find those powerhouses, what chances do women have?
This dilemma is unlikely to be hit by a group of Italian attackers pulverized by England. That doesn’t mean respite is guaranteed. Ireland’s scrimmage against Italy in Parma last September – scene of devastation with defeats to Spain and Scotland – was doubtful, but that shouldn’t be scary.
When the scrum goes wrong, there are things you can fix on the hoof, although it depends on those on the ground who have the experience to recognize and deal with what is thrown at them.
Then there are other holes that can be plugged at halftime when the coaches open the laptop and show pictures that can be changed. Ultimately, however, if you’re beaten by technically better and more powerful opponents, your only way out is a referee who doesn’t know a dominating scrum from a flock of geese and decides to level things. It happens sometimes.
Second, the question of selection. At Parsons, Lucy Mulhall and Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe Ireland have three top athletes. McWilliams opted for Mulhall and Murphy Crowe either side of Eimear Considine, one of his best footballers struggling for form, in the first two rounds. Today, they’ll be a solid three-man running back – although the football side of the equation remains unclear.
When asked last week why Parsons wasn’t in the starting squad against France, the coach said he didn’t want it to give the impression that whoever she came for was at fault, which it would be if that was the only change. We wonder how Considine feels now, because while she’s not the only alteration behind scrum post France – Kathryn Dane’s overshoot puts her ahead of Aoibheann Reilly – she tumbled from Matchday 23. Sevens stars are fading soon McWilliams will need her back on deck, all merry clappy.
These are the challenges of managing in an environment where there is no depth. And you can’t change this one in a hurry.
Ireland v Italy
Today, RTÉ2, 5.0