Reactionary decision making is best avoided. Happenings in a certain sporting sphere of late prove that. Whether right or not, in the aftermath of the defeats to Scotland and Wales, there was considerable call for change within the Irish rugby team. Inference being that, perhaps, Joe Schmidt had been too loyal to some of his most senior soldiers.
In some instances the point carried credence. However, aside from enforced alterations, large numbers of the tried and trusted still delivered a stirring performance against England. Was the identity of the opposition a factor in that? Quite possibly. But, even allowing for that, there was enough evidence afoot to suggest that the New Zealander may yet wring more from some well soaked sponges.
I will admit that there are times when I don’t know what to make of Jonny Sexton. His class is unquestionable, yet there are times when you wonder may his stellar career meet an end earlier than it might. Owing to an inclination, whether correct or otherwise, that he seems to find himself in more trouble spots than most.
Whilst addressing that crucial second half penalty against the white clad crew it was obvious that the fly half was the worse for wear. Yet his pivotal importance pulses through every game of which he is part. For all that, there were other standout points from the conclusion of the Six Nations.
Top billing would justifiably go to Kieran Marmion who seemed to blend in seamlessly when deputising for the hitherto considered indispensable Conor Murray. That is not to say that the Munster number 9 wasn’t missed – the best scrum half in the world would of course be a loss – but, feelings that have long been harboured regarding Ireland’s strength in depth were also handsomely vindicated.
From a personal perspective, it was great to see two especial favourites of mine, Sean O’Brien and, in particular, Peter O’Mahony, excel when the opportunity presented itself. Especially in the case of the former, it was great to see that there is indeed light at the end of what has looked a very dark tunnel at times.
Furthermore, it is now evident that there now appears to be cover for nearly every position on the team. Full back might be pinpointed as a possible exception but given Andrew Conway’s adeptness when deployed at the Aviva most recently – not to mention the likes of Craig Gilroy and Andrew Trimble and the as yet uncapped Leinster duo of Ronan O’Loughlin and Adam Byrne – deploying Simon Zebo thence permanently shouldn’t be an issue.
Garry Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw are, slowly but surely, moulding into a combination to mirror a certain dup that preceded them. Admittedly, they have a long way to go to scale similar heights, but the signs are good. As they are following the brief but highly telling contribution made by Luke McGrath following the burgeoning Leinster scrum half’s introduction.
If there remains one area of concern it – hardly surprisingly – revolves around cover, or a scarcity thereof, in Sexton’s spot. Joey Carbery could rightly consider himself to have been in the driving seat in the succession stakes following a whirlwind beginning to his international career in the winter series some months ago.
However, that promise has been – for a while at least – parked due to an injury-blighted campaign. Ross Byrne’s stock continues to rise but akin to O’Loughlin and the other Byrne he seemingly hasn’t wowed the powers-that-be sufficiently to merit inclusion. Add to that Tiernan O’Halloran for whatever reason not currying as much favour as may be the case and the versatility of Munster utility back Rory Scannell may have a big role to play going forward.
Meath football manager Andy McEntee recently passionately vented his frustration at the end of their league game against Cork. This was a match, remember, in which they came from nine points adrift to claim what must rank is a commendable draw. And yet, the boss’s overriding emotion was quite understandable. Having got themselves in a position to completely turn around the situation, failure to do so felt hollow.
You wonder will Schmidt, Andy Farrell et al be flummoxed by similar misgivings at the end of this Championship journey. Simply as it smacks of being an opportunity lost. One is at pains no to read too much into things, but, you wonder were things at a higher peak for the visit of the Red Rose than on other days. Similar sentiments abided in 2011 when they also spoiled a supposed Grand Slam coronation.
Greatest regret stems from a feeling that there was more than the team bus out of sync on the occasion of the Scotland encounter. There could be few quibbles with the outcome of the Wales clash, yet what grates most is Ireland showing what they were really capable of during their other outings.
With that segment of their season now completed, inclination is to think matters are still in good fettle for what lies ahead. That, in turn, adds another bit of spicy marinade to the European escapades awaiting the Irish sides as everybody has plenty to play for in more ways than one.