Most won’t admit it but there must be a huge sense of worry among Irish rugby circles as the weeks and months tick down to the World Cup in Japan.
2018 will forever be remembered as a golden year for Irish sport but particularly rugby as our nation swept aside all challengers en route to a Grand Slam title, a first series victory in Australia since 1979 and a maiden home win over the All Blacks to round the year out in style.
We also had the blue wave of Leinster cast aside all that stood before them as they marched towards a domestic and European double.
Six months have passed since that November night when Jacob Stockdale chipped a beauty into the backfield before scoring what will go down as Irish rugby’s most famous ever try. However, the landscape of Irish rugby looks very different in May than it did in November.
We got royally spanked by England just ten weeks after beating the All Blacks and then fell to Wales in a performance that fans and players alike would prefer to forget.
On the provincial scene, a lot has been said about Leinster’s form, with many arguing that they haven’t been as dominant a force as last year.
By the end of 2018, there was loose talk that we were the number one rugby side in the world with the best club. Six months on and many are fretting that we are heading for another World Cup meltdown.
However, we must approach the situation with a different perspective as September looms.
Ireland’s form had to dip at some stage, better it happen now than in Japan and when it comes to Leinster they still ran away with Conference B of the PRO 14 and put up some staggering points tallies in the Champions Cup, they came unstuck in Saturday’s final but credit to Saracens, the better team on the day won.
The difference between six months ago and now is that players who for the longest time couldn’t put a foot wrong are now making mistakes. We can’t vilify them, though, we have a rich array of talent in Ireland and a group of players that are going to achieve heights never before seen in Irish rugby, hell, they already have.
It’s important that we let them make mistakes on their journey.
Jacob Stockdale was hung drawn and quartered over his failure to deal with the kick that led to Jonny Maye’s try back in February and the electrifying Ulster man was hung out to dry again following his failure to ground the ball against Leinster back in March.
Remember, this is a young player who five minutes before scoring his country’s most famous ever try had a kick blocked down by Kieran Read. Now that’s courage and if we are going to succeed in a World Cup we’ll need a lot of that.
Garry Ringrose’s decision to carry the ball on Saturday when a four on one was developing outside him was a mistake but it’s a mistake he will never make again.
Ringrose’s error is the topic of many conversations following Leinster’s defeat due to the nature of the player. Garry Ringrose is someone we’ve become accustomed to consistently performing at the highest level, he’s brave, he’s intelligent and he always makes the right decision. He’s still all those things and we’ll need plenty of good decision makers come the World Cup.
He will bounce back, so too will Stockdale. As fans, it is important to let them make these mistakes and challenge them to go again. The pressure on them must border on overwhelming at times, both pressures they put on themselves and pressure from within the camp.
Yes, they’re professionals but they are young professionals, they will make mistakes as we all do. It’s important to vindicate them of any wrongdoing and have as relaxed an atmosphere as we can going into the World Cup.
Remember that these young stars have given Irish rugby fans more success and more to cheer about than any that have gone before them, they are looking to create history… again.
It’s not like we have any for them to tarnish.