New Zealand 60, Ireland 0: What the hell happened to Ireland??

After almost racking up their first non-defeat by the All Blacks last weekend in Christchurch, with the All Blacks winning the game on a last minute drop-goal by Dan Carter, Ireland decided to get the whole pesky “end of game” collapse out of the way in the first 20 minutes of their third Test Saturday in Hamilton. The 60-0 final score was the worst defeat ever by the Irish at New Zealand’s hands, just seven days off from having almost beaten the All Blacks for the first time ever.

Ireland’s collapse started off strong, giving away four tries in the first 22 minutes to the All Blacks, including a back-to-back pair to… wait for it… (no not Gavin Henson)… reputed soon-to-be-returning to Rugby League star Sonny Bill Williams.

The Irish never appeared to be very comfortable, especially once New Zealand took such a commanding 26-0 lead in the first quarter of the game. Ireland were never able to capitalize after captain Brian O’Driscoll started to engineer a drive into New Zealand territory. At the half, Irish fullback Rob Kearney intercepted a pass that would have led to yet another New Zealand try, but the ref decided he deliberately knocked it on, gave  Kearney a 10-minute yellow card, and gave a penalty for the All Blacks, who tacked on a three-point penalty kick to go into the half leading 29-0.

The second half looked no better for the Irish, as the All Blacks picked up where they left off, charging through a battered Irish defense time and again to score nearly at will. By the time it was over the Irish looked dejected, bewildered, wondering if anyone got the name of the train that ran over them in Hamilton.

Unfortunately, last week’s question of “what could have been” has been replaced by “what the hell happened?” Both are questions that will take a long time to answer.  And the way the tour schedule is firming up for the future, Saturday was the last time in the next 12 years that Ireland had a chance at gaining their first win against New Zealand, outside of any possible faceoffs in the World Cup.

Brian O’Driscoll, Injuries, and the “Club vs. Country” Debate

Ireland center Brian O’Driscoll might become the latest Rugby World Cup casualty to take an extended leave of absence from the rugby pitch.

After gutting through the Rugby World Cup, thanks in large part to cortisone injections according to ESPN Scrum, O’Driscoll, 32, is at risk of having to get surgery for an injured shoulder so he can play for RaboDirect PRO 12 team Leinster. According to Leinster coach Joe Schmidt:

“He’s a fairly precious commodity, BOD, so we want to make sure we don’t play him in the condition that’s going to affect him in the future and we look after him as best we can. Because if we can get him right, he’s a fairly handy fellah to have.”

This brings up the question of club vs. country once again. It’s considered the greatest honor for a player to be selected for their country, but in an age of professionalism teams have to ask how best to balance both commitments for players. These professional teams are paying thousands of dollars/pounds/euros for the services of these players,and have as much of a right to these players’ efforts.

If they aren’t available because of injuries sustained in the line of their international duty, then I’m sure many of these teams feel that steps need to be taken. Whether it’s the professional team being compensated part of their salary spent on the player by the country, or another agreement between the competition, teams and country.

I’m sure there are those who have a counter opinion, that national team matches are more important than professional team expectations. They might even wish to point to soccer or basketball as an example, that it is possible to play for both team and nation.

As anyone who has ever been on the rugby pitch knows, rugby is a more physical sport than either of those two sports. Placing the same expectations on a rugby player that fans might have on a soccer player are more likely to wear down the rugger, increasing the chances for additional injuries.

Professional rugby players already have a too-long season to contend with, but to pile on additional national team duties, or visiting international tours on top of that might be pushing these athletes to, or beyond, their physical limits.