State of the Nation: Ireland

Date published: March 23 2012

As we do after every major tournament, we've taken a look at the state of affairs in each of the competing nations. Next up, Ireland!

As we do after a major tournament, we look at the state of affairs in each of the competing nations. Next, Ireland!

What will the lasting images be of Ireland this Six Nations? A demolishion of their scrum, the return to form of Rob Kearney and scrum-half troubles?

They finished third in the standings after being priced as fourth favourite pre-championship so that does not sound like too bad a showing from them. But that unfortunately is not looking at the whole pie and it ultimately became clear that their missing ingredient again came at scrum-time.

England found a weakness and turned the screw last week at Twickenham. It would be unfair to only point the finger at Tom Court, whose regular position is loosehead, as they were dominated in all facets. IRFU advertising a scrum specialist position in the wake of the humiliating defeat says it all really as the white flag has been raised – now they must act quickly to make sure such an embarrassment doesn't happen again in June.

But what of their championship? Well they came mighty close to getting 2012 off on the right foot but for a last-minute penalty from Leigh Halfpenny seeing Wales to a 23-21 victory in Dublin. They were leading that game 10-5 at the half-time break but then fell away in the end as the momentum began for the eventual Six Nations and Grand Slam champions.

Next up were the Azzurri – again in Dublin – which provided a tough opening 40 minutes before Ireland eventually pulled away to secure a 42-10 cruise. Then came a rearranged clash in Paris and a game Ireland should have won due to their 17-6 interval lead, but they took their foot off the gas at Stade de France and back came les Bleus to claim a draw.

From there they got back to winning ways on home soil against a struggling Scottish outfit, despite lock Paul O'Connell having followed regular skipper Brian O'Driscoll to the Six Nations sidelines. This is where a mention goes to Donnacha Ryan, who stepped up well.

And so we come to that fixture at HQ when a usually confident Irish team could not improve on their fine recent record over the English. The post-mortem has already begun it seems with that aforementioned job advertisement but it is clear that prop depth around the sides is an issue. Let's look at it; Munster's starters are BJ Botha and Wian du Preez, Ulster's are John Afoa and Tom Court while the Leinster back-ups to Cian Healy and Mike Ross are Heinke van der Merwe and Nathan White. Connacht's only real Irish hope is Brett Wilkinson.

Irish fans will therefore be hoping the new imposed restriction on non-Irish qualified players donning their PRO12 shirts from the 2013/2014 season does the job it's intended to do.