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29th Nov 2013

Zero Rucks Given: Jerry Flannery on the positives to take from the New Zealand match

Fla says that yes it was heartbreaking on Sunday, but the team are moving in the right direction.

Jerry Flannery

Fla says that yes it was heartbreaking on Sunday, but the team are moving in the right direction.

Well, I said in last week’s blog that the main thing I was looking for on Sunday against the All Blacks was a performance and we certainly got that. Unfortunately, there was to be no first ever win over the All Blacks and, whilst I came away from the game a bit shell shocked, my feelings quickly changed into devastation for the Irish lads who had put in such a remarkable display.

As an Irish fan I was gutted but when I thought of the hurt and disappointment that the Irish players would have been going through it put my hurt in perspective. I’d been there before, losing big games and I know full well how hard it is trying to find an escape from the pain of a defeat like that.

To put it into context, that Irish team would have spent practically every meaningful thought in the week between the Australian defeat and the New Zealand match thinking of how they could draw out a performance great enough to get us a historic first ever win over the All Blacks. This is all set against the background of a performance that massively under delivered against the Wallabies. Questions were asked in the press and no doubt the players questioned themselves. In this scenario the only ones that really matter are the players so a huge amount of credit must go the players as to how they turned things around within the week. It was an epic display and to end up on the losing side after leading the best team in the world for near enough 80 minutes was absolutely heartbreaking.

I know I said last week that I didn’t think we had a realistic chance of beating the All Blacks but when we scored the second try at Aviva on Sunday I started to believe. I remember watching Ireland go ahead before against New Zealand in 1995 and thinking we were going to beat them that day but we ended up getting absolutely tanked in the end.

But watching Sunday’s game I felt there was no reason why we would lose it. The physicality was incredible and I thought if we could maintain that we could get the win. Rob Kearney’s try was an opportunistic effort but the others were the result of relentless hard work. It wasn’t like the All Blacks were making sloppy mistakes and we were feeding off them, we were the better team thanks to the manner in which we imposed ourselves on the game.

Gordon D'Arcy and Rob Kearney with Ma'a Nonu 24/11/2013

Sean O’Brien, Peter O’Mahony and Cian Healy were making great ground with their carries, Rory Best was outstanding and I was equally impressed with Sean Cronin when he came in to replace Rory. As a hooker, I know just how hard it is to come in off the bench and the way he fitted right in so seamlessly into a game of such high intensity was admirable. Conor Murray had a huge game along with Rob Kearney and it was great to see the level of physicality shown by Gordon D’Arcy in his carries and particularly in his breakdown work.

I mentioned about how I felt the level of physicality required was missing in the defeat by the Wallabies but that was clearly addressed by the management and squad. Ninety five per cent physicality is not enough. It has to be 100 per cent or players look very average. I can understand how low the players would have felt after the Australian defeat and the criticism from that game would definitely have spurred them on. There’s no such thing as a crisis, there’s just the next game. For them to perform like that one week after the Wallabies game is a testament to the character in the squad.

For me, the sense that we might just fall short came when we just couldn’t put them away in the final quarter. I felt they would get a big play and when we couldn’t pull clear I feared the worst. It was just so disappointing to see it happen.

A few of the lads from the France defeat at Croke Park in 2007 have mentioned that as their most heartbreaking loss but not so for me. There was no trophy on offer that afternoon. In hindsight one could say that defeat cost us a grand slam but there’s a lot of what ifs in that theory. Last Sunday was a chance for that Irish team to make history but when the final whistle went that chance was gone again.

Despite not getting the win, the performance has helped set down a marker. That is how well they can play against the best team in the world. We were the better team for the majority of the game and were winning that game from the start right until the very last second. It’s true that we played with a manic intensity that is difficult to consistently replicate but this is international rugby and not week in, week out club rugby. Player’s seasons are built around peaking for the national team and with the level of detail that Joe Schmidt will already have introduced into the Irish game plan, I’m certainly very hopeful.

There will be a real positive buzz in the group now. Yes, they disappear off back to their clubs but that mood will remain. The big thing with the Autumn internationals is to finish positively as it tees you up for the Six Nations. When they come back the feeling will be that this is a team moving in the right direction. One win out of three doesn’t reflect the progress made. Pride has been restored in the jersey, supporters are excited about the national side and all the players will be eager to get back in the international set up and follow up on the steps they have taken.