The domestic season has finally concluded with Leinster winning back-to-back Pro 12 titles. However, there are two tests in Argentina to be negotiated before Ireland’s rugby players can put their feet up and reflect on a successful season in provincial and national colours.
Joe Schmidt will look to continue the momentum built from the Six Nations championship win in South America. The Kiwi coach addressed one of Irish rugby’s long standing itches; a win in Paris. But Schmidt will have to once again work his magic if he is to cure Ireland’s southern hemisphere sickness.
Ireland head south of the equator looking to end a barren run that stretches back to the seventies. The men in green have not won a test series in the southern hemisphere since they defeated the Wallabies Down Under in 1979. Leaving aside the four World Cups played below the equator, Ireland’s record is absolutely dreadful.
Thirty-two test matches the men in green have contested on various tours to the southern hemisphere since their series win in Australia and only twice have they emerged victorious with wins against Samoa and Tonga back in 2003. But are there reasons behind Ireland’s lack of success since that historic day at the SCG in Sydney when Ollie Campbell kicked Ireland to glory?
Southern Hemisphere too good!
Everyone knows Ireland’s trials and tribulations when taking on the All Blacks. New Zealand are the pinnacle of the rugby game, so it is understandable why Ireland have a poor record when travelling to the Land of the Long White Cloud. Likewise when Ireland travel to South Africa, the brutality and power of the Springboks combined with the lung bursting altitude have been enough to grind Irish travelling teams to a halt.
Playing Australia is tough Down Under.
England only secured their first ever away against the Green and Gold in 2003. But the Wallabies have always represented Ireland’s best chance of taking a scalp against the Big Three away from home. The Aussies have not been at their best this past decade and yet Ireland’s ‘Golden Generation’ have still come up short against the Gold and Green when in the sunnier climates of the former convict colony.
But when Ireland have gone on tour to other places south of the equator their record is still inept. They have fallen to the Puma’s bite when in Argentina, 2007 being the most recent disappointment. And in 1991 Ireland reached a new low on their travels as they suffered a humiliating 2-0 test series loss to Namibia. Were these sides too good for Ireland? There must be other factors!
End of long season & tiredness!
This was a legitimate excuse for players from the amateur era. However, Ireland’s players are full time professionals now who train and play rugby for a living. They should be expected to play at the same level and standard as they did at the start of the season, during the season and at that the end of the season.
The IRFU have a player welfare programme where they remove centrally contracted internationals to allow them to be at the peak of their powers for crucial international and Heineken Cup ties. Being tired is not a valid reason for underperforming Ireland players on tour.
Belief & Incorrect mindset!
A lack of belief could be the core of Ireland’s touring torment. Irish players have been very close to defeating Australia and New Zealand since the turn of the century. Ireland have lost their last two tests against Australia Down Under by one score and against New Zealand, the home side has been able to take the game by the scruff of the neck when the tie is in the balance.
Irish players’ mindset can be called into question when they play these matches. Far too often the Irish team concede a score within minutes of kick-off. This suggests the team was not mentally prepared for the challenge that was before them.
The test series in New Zealand of 2012 is a prime example of Irish players’ focus and attitude not being correct as they were hammered in the first test but produced one the best performances ever seen by an Irish rugby team when they went down to a last-minute Dan Carter drop goal in Christchurch.
In the third test Ireland looked like a team longing for their holidays and they put in a shameful showing as the All Blacks smashed the thin green line to pieces to win 60-0; Ireland’s heaviest loss ever.
Joe Schmidt and his charges travel to South America looking to reproduce their Six Nations form and win the test series. The excellent coach who is a perfectionist will not accept the old excuse of tiredness from this talented group that he has at his disposal.
Ireland should beat Argentina quite comfortably as the Pumas are certainly not the force they used to be and came off a poor 2013 season. The Puma supporters will create intimidating atmospheres in Resistencia and especially Tucuman where the locals burn the opposing team’s national flag. And if the image of a burning Tricolour does not drive the Irish team on to secure their first southern hemisphere test series victory since 1979, then nothing will.
I will be travelling to Argentina to watch Joe Schmidt’s men clash with the Pumas but more importantly I will be doing four charity walks in order to help raise money for the IRFU Charitable Trust. The Trust aims to assist severely injured rugby players in their everyday lives, and help to restore confidence and independence so any donation no matter how small will be appreciated.
To see how I get on and for plenty of updates and pictures on Ireland’s tour, follow me on Twitter @Cass_maitias
Matt Cassidy, Pundit Arena.