State of the Nation: Ireland

Date published: March 19 2013

As we do after a major tournament, we look at the state of affairs in each of the competing nations. Next up, we have fifth-placed Ireland.

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

Ireland opened the 2013 Six Nations with such promise after 43 minutes against Wales that many considered them contenders for the title. Unfortunately, that opening period was as good as it got.

The fixture list appeared in their favour – hosting France and England in Dublin – and yet Ireland were unable to capitalise due to a plethora of major injuries.

What was so alarming about Ireland along with their growing treatment room was the number of simple errors they continued to make the longer the championship wore on. Errors not just through poor handling or execution, but costly indiscipline.

Brian O'Driscoll's reckless stamp in Rome illustrated the frustration at how their prospects had unravelled – a first ever loss to Italy in the Six Nations signalling the end of one noteworthy team record.

Problems with the set-piece meant that creating a solid platform was a painful task, with Rory Best's inaccurate throwing denting his prospects of a spot in the Lions XV.

Injuries have created opportunities and Luke Marshall and Paddy Jackson appear to have potential at Test level, but for Ireland to be throwing in uncapped youngsters highlights a lack of long-term planning.

That being said, no amount of foresight could have predicted that Peter O'Mahony would have ended up playing on the left wing in Rome.

There is no denying that Ireland are in a time of change. The 'Golden Generation' cannot go on forever, although Ronan O'Gara's unceremonious dropping could have been handled with better taste.

O'Driscoll is another who nobody wishes to retire, but for whom the clock is rapidly ticking. Paul O'Connell is one more racing against time. Ireland are trying to look forward and the process has begun with handing the captaincy to Jamie Heaslip, but it will not be without some growing pains.

It has not however been a tournament shorn of positives. Sean O'Brien has been one of the top carriers with 69 and confirmed he must travel with the Lions, whilst Jackson after a wobbly start has begun to look at home. Ian Madigan has been another to catch the eye.

What matters now is who will take Ireland forward. Declan Kidney's future will be confirmed in the coming weeks, but his time feels as though it is nearing the end. Kidney will always be remembered and praised for taking Ireland to that elusive Grand Slam in 2009, but too little success has followed considering the excellence of the Irish provincial sides in Europe.

Jake White, Ewen McKenzie and Conor O'Shea are all waiting in the wings to guide Ireland forwards, and there will be no better time for change than now.

Rather than a stellar championship that went from strength to strength after such an excellent start, Ireland's Six Nations instead has ended miserably. There is no better time than now to return to the drawing board and start again.

By Ben Coles