As OSCAR WILDE MIGHT HAVE said, for an Irish rugby team to start an international match without a tactical kicker may be regarded as a misfortune, but for it to attempt to play without a goal kicker as well looks like sheer carelessness. Yet that is what Ireland did when they set out to play Australia at Lansdowne Road last Saturday.
For those with the eyes to see and clearly that assembly did not include Paul Dean, the Irish fly half, the point was made within a couple of minutes of the start of the match. Moss Finn swung a deep crossfield kick. to the left. Roger Gould, the Australian full back, had to cover across but because he is a tall man, who gangles appreeciably, he fumbled and stumbled as he tried to pick up the ball and evenntually shuffled it into touch.
A top class kicker or, to be fair to Dean, a man who plays fly half reguularly at the top level would have realised at once that one of the golden keys to success had been pressed into his hand and he would have made Gould stretch and grovel for the rest of the afternoon.
But what did Ireland do? They played Gould in the air instead of on the ground. They bombed him with high kicks. Gould caught the ball and said "Thank you very much." It was just what he wanted.
The 1984 Australians have put a lot of thought into their game. They have come to the British Isles freequently in the last ten years and they have always been fit and they have always defended well but always they have' struggled for possession. Their serum has not been good enough. Their lineout has been demolished. Their forwards have been badly outtplayed in the loose. As a consequence a succession of either very competent or brilliantly talented backs have had to live off starvation rations.
This was what happened as recently as 1981 when the Australians last toured Britain and Ireland but since then the Wallabies have come to terms with their problems. Just as Rumania did they have found some very tall men to play in their line out but above and beyond that they have developed the capacity to recognise the obvious.
Perhaps the most significant of their observations in this regard has been the realisation that a rugby team at any level is given more possession through bad kicks by the opposition than from almost any other source.
There are a surprising number of kick offs in a match of one sort or another and there are a whole stream of specuulative tactical kicks which not only fail to reap a reward but which simply give the ball away. The 1984 Austraalians have worked out ways to profit from all those kicks.
This has been obvious from the beginning of their current tour of Britain and Ireland but it was shouted from the house-tops when they beat England at Twickenham a week before they beat Ireland. Australia picked up more ball from consistently bad Eng land kick offs than from almost any other phase of the game.
High kicks directed deep into Ausstralian territory are caught without fail but they are rarely used as a prime source of counter attack in the way that the British Lions used them so brilliantly in 1971. Instead they are kicked back even higher, ideally to a point just outside the opposing twentyyfive and they are followed up with tremendous verve by two or three runners to put pressure on the catcher.
This forces that unfortunate indiviidual either to make a hurried kick to touch which presents Australia with a throw into an attacking lineout which they have filled with a squad of baskettball players or it presents them with the chance of a winning ruck with their own players driving forward in an optimum position on the field.
ONE OF THE ESSENTIALS IN playing this Australian team thereefore is to choose a fly half who is such a good kicker that he can em barrass Gould with low raking kicks placed wide of him and who can kick off so well that his team retain possession of the ball. That was what Cardiff did through Gareth Davies and that was why Cardiff beat this Australian team so easily. A nation cannot lea rn to scrummage overnight and even though these Australians are benefitting from the tight work of Rodriguez, their import from the Argentine, it was not enough to stop their serum being dissmantled by Cardiff.
This was what made Ireland's selecction of Paul Dean at fly half so diffiicult to follow particularly as Deaf! plays for the same Dublin club as Tony Ward. Dean is a poor kicker and he was obviously chosen as an article of faith; as a declaration of intent to run the ball; as a public affirmation of a break with the past. But as a French General once said when watch ing a supreme but vain act of British heroism "It is brave but it is not war."
It was argued that it is demoralising for backs to play outside a fly half as slow as Ward. It is even more demoraalising to lose.
An international rugby player has an uncomfortable parallel with a baboon climbing up a tree which is that the higher up the tree he goes the more apparent become his more unnsavoury characteristics and this is esspecially true of the position of fly half. He is the decision-maker. What he says and does either goes or falls flat on its face.
As I say Ireland obviously chose Dean to run the ball but because of his lack of experience in that position Èhe plays centre for his club - he did not even do that well. His serum half Michael Bradley can neither pass like a rocket nor run like one but he did get the ball away without too much interference and so he did at least give Dean the chance to play. It was a chance which was not taken.
The selection of Dean might have made sense if Ireland had a back division packed with foot baIlers and grease lightning in equal parts but in the event Ireland had neither. Kiernan has pace but is not a foot baIler. Ringland has power but no pace. Mullen is not ready for international rugby yet. Finn is a Jack of all trades but a master of none.
It is ironic that Kiernan, Mullen and Finn have the pace to play the good old Irish game of chasing and spoiling after shrewdly-placed kicks. This is the game incidentally which served Scotland so well last season and which might have embarrassed Gould this season because it would have hoissted him with his own petard.
What made the whole thing even more awkward for Dean was that it was apparent to the whole wide world that his immediate opponent Mark Ella, the Australian fly half, is a foottballing genius. Ella is no better at touch kicking than Dean and he lacks that final cutting edge of pace but his football brain and his hands are sheer magic.
Not that Australia played well against Ireland, at least not by their standards. They had so much of the play and so much of the attacking pressure in the first half that they should have been out of sight by half time. As it was they led only three-nil through a goal, dropped by Michael Lynagh, from a free kick.
That kick was awarded for a crooked serum feed. This was an event in itself because the ball went into the serum so crooked all afternoon that it was hard to see why Bob Francis, the New Zealand referee, should have chosen that particular moment to demur.
Mr Francis had also refereed the game between England and Australia the previous week as part of the praiseeworthy new system of refereeing ex· changes between the northern and southern hemispheres. No one has fought harder for that system than I have but it did show Mr Francis to be a long way out of his depth.
CLIVE NORLING, THE LEADING Welsh international referee, obbviously thought the same and as he was one of the two touch judges apppointed for Ireland's game against Australia he found himself in a posiition to do something about it. It was an opportunity he took with alacrity. Indeed he made some interventions which were so thoroughly intriguing that it looked as if he had half a mind to try to referee the match by remote control.
It was in the second half that he really came into his own and his tour de force occurred when Bob Francis (your man really does have two most unfortunate initials) watched Ella scrag-tackle Mullen from a range of about three yards and clearly decided that it did not constitute a dangerous tackle. Clive Norling, at a range of about thirty-three yards, not only begged leave to differ but insisted upon doing so.
On seeing Admiral Norling's flag signal dear old B.F. jumped into his pinnace and sailed over to get his orders from his commander in chief and eventually gave a penalty kick. Unfortunately, by the time the matter had been resolved the kick was given at least fifteen yards nearer to the Australian posts than the offence had been committed. Michael Kiernan's kick at goal hit the left post and it bounced almost square but it just fell over the bar as it expired.
Kiernan has always given me the impression of having influence in high places but on this occasion it looked as if that influence extended to the referee and to the touch judge and even to the divine. Alan Jones, the Australian coach, was not in the least amused.
The groundsman at Lansdowne Road on the other hand was enorrmously relieved. He must have watched in horror in the first half as Moss Finn, the man who had drawn the short straw as first over the top, prepared to take his first kick at goal for Ireland.
Clearly, Finn is to goal-kicking what a JCB is to gardening but, having hacked away and built this enormous mountain of a tee he then achieved a ballistic miracle by managing to prooject a half topped torpedo kick wide of the posts. Shortly after that he
retired as a goal-kicker nursing an injury. Small wonder. He could have induced a hernia kicking off a tee like that.
The fact remains though that for Tony Ward that kick would have been a formality of a little wedge shot to the green and those three points would have increased the pressure on an Ausstralian team struggling to find its commposure in the face of a spirited Irish effort in the lineout and some priceless mauling in retreat by the Irish back row.
Australia were also having to play their second international match against fresh opposition in the space of eight days as a part of quite the most ludicrous tour itinerary I have ever seen. Anyone who has been on tour will tell you how hard that is.
In addition the Australians had made some uncharacteristic handling mistakes. These had their most poiggnant expression, at least for yours truly, when Simon Poidevin managed to make a guggle of a first half overlap created by David Campese which was so huge that Poidevin had to wait about five minutes to reduce it to two to one and as Hugo MacNeill's smoke had only just been sited on the horizon it was a very distant one at that.
As I say this caused me a great deal of pain because I judge British and Irish rugby to be so poor at the mooment that early in the tour I stepped smartly round to my friendly local bookmaker to take the surprisingly generous odds of 8/1 against the Ausstralians beating all four of the home countries on their tour. It is not that I think that Australia are all that good but I really do think that we are awful.
I NEVER THOUGHT FOR A MOOment that the Wallabies would beat Wales but I was quite certain that they' would start by beating England and Ireland and I calculated that it would then be possible to layoff the money so that whatever happened in the matchesagainst Wales and Scotland J .R. would be left with a profit of a score or so. This might be enough to buy me a cup of soup and a starter at one of the more modestly priced Dublin restaurants when I next visit the place in 1986.
Fortunately for the world of interrnational investment (I am not a betting man), the clanger dropped by Poidevin and those dropped by Lynagh with his lamentably indifferent goal-kicking did not affect the outcome but they did make the whole thing a damned sight more close run than it ought to have been.
Instead of enjoying a long lead Australia had only three points to show for their first half superiority and allthough Ella dropped a goal early in the second half to make it six-nil, the Australian advantage was by no means unassailable and Ireland duly assailed it. Against all the odds Kiernan kicked three goals and Ireland took the lead nine six.
Time was running out and Australia were against the collar but they were not under the pressure in the forwards, it was a marvellously mild autumn day and the conditions were perfect for the Australians' superior fitness and team work to prevail. That was what happened. The hour had arrived and so did the man.
Inevitably the man turned out to be Mark Ella. First he placed a wickedly shrewd kick so searchingly that nine times out of ten David Campese would have scored. This was the tenth time though and the ball squirmed away. No matter. Australia kept at it and Ella brought the scores level with his second dropped goal. Still Australia attacked and still Ireland found it immpossible to escape.
Cutler, Australia's extraordinarily extruded lineout jumper, had been bothered with Irishmen climbing all over him all afternoon and with New Zeala~ referees doing nothing about it but at last he managed to work a ball down to his estimable serum half and F arr-J ones faithfully fed Ella.
The Australian backs have so many variations of long miss-passes and loops and doubles and scissors and dummies in their midfield moves that for them to do the orthodox is a surrprise in itself and that was exactly how Ella confounded Ireland. He slipped Lynagh a short flat pass and Lynagh strode through the gap past Mullen.
Ireland managed to get away with a blatant obstruction of Slack, but Burke had gone across from the far wing and he gave Campese room to run at the remnants. of the Irish defence.
As the powerful but pedestrian Ringland took great pleasure in demonnstrating, Campese's defence owes far more to Lester Piggott than it does to Jerry Walsh but as an attacking runner Campese is something again.
For a moment it looked as if Cammpese was going to get into the same tangle as Poidevin had done but he had the foot balling skill to get out of it. When he came inside he realised he could not score so he pulled both Kiernan and Ringland into him before floating a long pass out to Ella who had run clear on the outside. Ella scored and although Lynagh did not kick the conversion he did kick a penalty goal before the end to put the result beyond doubt and to make my bookmaker burst into tears. •