By Mark Jones
DUBLIN — On the back of a disastrous World Cup, surely it couldn’t get any worse. That’s what Ireland rugby coach, Warren Gatland, and his players would have liked to believe, but then it did. In fact, it got much worse as the Irish slumped to a record 50-18 defeat by England to kick off the new Six Nations championship.
Last weekend’s pathetic display at Twickenham signaled a new low for a sport that is on the verge of losing its last vestige of credibility at international level. The first half, during which England swatted the green jerseys aside with laughable ease, was a shocking indictment of a clueless
team and a coach who has badly lost his way.
No one seriously expected Ireland to pull off a victory, but stung by that World Cup failure, the country’s long-suffering rugby public were entitled to more than this. For the opening 40 minutes, there were missed tackles, handling mistakes and error piled up on error.
Yes, England were impressive, but the opposition appeared so flat-footed and disorganized that the game quickly turned into a non-contest. Players like Conor O’Shea, Tom Tierney, David Humphreys and Dion O’Cuinneagain — players to whom a misguided Gatland had remained loyal — looked so far out of their depth it was embarrassing.
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Ireland were lucky to be only trailing by 25-3 at the interval and if a mini-revival during the second half was down more to English boredom than anything else, the winners finished off with a flourish to reach 50 points. There were two tries from Kevin Maggs and replacement Mick Galwey, but England helped themselves to six tries and there could have been many more.
"I’m not a person to quit," Gatland said afterward, although the decision may be made for him if his team loses to Scotland at Lansdowne Road in the
next game. "We need to look at the things that went wrong and look to keep working on the things that went well."
Elsewhere, there were recriminations. Trevor Brennan, who came on as substitute for the hapless O’Cuinneagain early in the second half, refused to hold back.
"We weren’t 100 percent committed to the tackle," Brennan said. "Players had talked about commitment during the week and it just didn’t seem to be carried out onto the pitch."
Not even the upbeat captain Keith Wood, who was anonymous during the slaughter, could find any solace.
"It was bad for us to give away so many penalties and then it was pretty difficult to defend against wave after wave of attack," he said.
Only center Brian O’Driscoll and Malcolm O’Kelly emerged with any credit from the wreckage. Gatland will now have to make at least five changes for the game against the Scots. However, there is no evidence that there is any talent in reserve.
Morale is so low and, clearly, the coach has failed to get the best of what is admittedly an average bunch of players. Time is fast running out for both Gatland and team manager Donal Lenihan. They have failed to deliver on
every promise in the past year.
Another loss to Scotland, who have beaten Ireland every season since 1988, and it won’t just be the players who are cast aside.
Elsewhere, Italy made a dramatic first appearance in the championship with a 34-20 victory over reigning champions Scotland in Rome, while France crushed
Wales by 36-3 in Cardiff.