Ireland’s rugby players took the field for their opening match of the 21st century last Saturday. The venue was Twickenham in London. The Irish wore green, the English white. The nearest thing to a collision between the colors was when English players hit the green sward with the ball in the act of scoring tries. Otherwise, it was a shambles from an Irish point of view, particularly in the first half, when it appeared as if the Irish were ghosts, friendly ones, and the English were the only truly physical beings on the field of play.
Being a fan of Irish rugby has never been an easy fate. It’s rather like supporting the Chicago Cubs in baseball: long history, deep tradition, occasional flashes of brilliance, mostly deep frustration. Much of the blame in the aftermath of the 50-18 defeat suffered by the Irish has been placed on the head of Ireland’s coach, Warren Gatland. The New Zealander does not yet appear to have what it takes to coach a win from Ireland’s players in the era of the professional game. At the same time, it’s not entirely his fault. This batch of Irish players apparently lacks the flair and fire to pull together a few good games, never mind convincing victories.
That’s a pity. Irish teams have historically been characterized for their ability to fill the flair gap with a little passion. The latter quality was almost entirely absent at Twickenham. Nobody even gave it a lash. Some blame the money now so evident in the game. Critics argue that players with contracts and eyes on bonuses are more concerned with avoiding injury than anything else.
That’s a non-starter. No, the problem seems to be primarily a matter of coaching and inspiring players to go beyond even what they see to be a decent, passable effort. That takes a special kind of coach. There aren’t too many of them around and the Irish rugby authorities will have to pay through the nose to land one. Be that as it may, the sooner they do the better.
In the meantime, it wasn’t a completely disastrous weekend for Irish sports. Runner Mark Carroll carried on a now great Irish tradition by winning the Wanamaker Mile at the Millrose Games Friday night in New York. Can he run with a rugby ball in his hand?
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