Rugby Union: Murphys all round as Irish seek cure for hangover

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The Independent Online
Ireland. . 6

France. . 21

GERRY MURPHY, the man drinking from the poisoned chalice through a shortened straw, is not reaching for the stomach pump. Not yet. His contract, which does not exist, is for one season and he does not know if he will be around the national team this time next year. Yes, he would like to continue and, no, he was not discouraged despite overseeing Ireland's 11th successive defeat which constitutes some sort of grisly record.

Notwithstanding the fact that the wooden spoon now looks like a shillelah, Murphy, a thinking man's coach, believes Ireland will be on level terms with the rest in a year or two. 'In many ways we are more strict about observing the amateur code than even the Scots. But the revolution is in place.'

What happened against France at Lansdowne Road was depressingly predictable, although Ireland took heart from the performance of their forwards. They were gutsy and the defence was heroic. 'We should have scored 12 to 15 points in the first half and France would probably have not won the match,' Murphy said. 'There was a dramatic improvement from the game against Scotland. France are further down the road than us but we can improve again.'

Noel Murphy, the manager, said: 'It could be argued that we deserved to win. It was very encouraging. We won more ball in the first 10 minutes than in the whole game against Scotland.' The third wise man was the captain, Michael Bradley. 'We restored blood and guts,' he said. 'The support of the crowd lifted us.'

An Irishman said that although this was all very well, Ireland were soundly beaten and at home. 'We can't go losing and losing and losing,' Gerry Murphy said. 'We can't keep dying for the flag.' In the last 18 matches against France, Ireland have won once. Gerry Murphy, as befits a man who once, in the cricketing white of Ireland, faced the bowling of the West Indian Wayne Daniel, is adept at parrying the loaded question.

Noel, by comparison, was fending off deliveries with what appeared to be a splinter of willow. Finally, he cracked. 'Of course we're disappointed of course we're concerned. Any more questions gentlemen? Bridging the gap? There are gaps all over the place. We were told that we had to follow England's example and when they were beaten we were told we had to follow Wales. And look what happened to Wales. The Irish people are miserable, the Welsh people are miserable and the French are delighted. That's rugby football. Any more questions gentlemen? Fitness? I'd hate to think there was a lack of fitness. We are working bloody hard to try and close the gap. Any more questions?'

There were but he was not going to hang around for them. According to former players, one of the reasons why Ireland are flagging is that the Irish Rugby Football Union does not look after its personnel as well, or as professionally, as others in the championship. 'That's wrong,' the manager intercepted. 'We look after our players very well.' Before he could utter another word on the subject, Bradley interjected. 'I can vouch for that,' he said. Bradley is Noel's son-in-law and Bradley is one of Ireland's problems. He and the inexperienced Niall Malone are an ineffective link and, tactically, Ireland were hopeless.

They must have watched the video of England against France and they must have seen Jean- Baptiste Lafond catch everything. This did not deter the Irish from giving Lafond every opportunity to display his strengths. With Lafond in such form, France are hardly missing Serge Blanco.

Bradley, who lost the toss and was compelled to play with the benefit of a fierce wind in the first half (he would have done so anyway), kicked too far too often. With the French threequarters operating a suffocating defence, what Ireland needed was variation: a delicate chip or a little grub-kick.

Ireland are not short of outside- halves but they are all young and untried. Malone is worth persevering with although they may be tempted, too soon, to try Paul Burke. Outside, the situation is far worse. Philip Danaher and Vincent Cunningham cannot, between them, create a half-gap. Blood and gutsy crash-ball merchants, certainly, but in two matches Ireland have not looked like scoring a try.

When former caps talk about Ireland being at a disadvantage in terms of trust funds and the like, Danaher's name crops up. A former captain, he returned from the tour of New Zealand last year and lost his job. In a recession employers are not falling over themselves to give players, even internationals, unlimited freedom. Gerry Murphy accepts that had Danaher been playing for say, Australia, he would not be on the dole queue. He would have a 'job' and all the time in the world to train for and play rugby.

The coach maintains Ireland are getting there and, meanwhile, he has been on bended knee to try to persuade Brendan Mullin, who threw in the green jersey but is captain of Blackrock, to return to the fold. They are so in need of a cutting edge.

The latest defeat was done up in a blue ribbon by half-time when the score was 6-6. 'We didn't come up to expectations,' Pierre Berbizier, the French coach, said. 'I regret that we crossed their line six times and only managed to score twice.' This was a thinly veiled attack on the referee, David Leslie.

Berbizier said that Leslie admitted after the game that Olivier Roumat had scored a perfectly good try which had not been given. Leslie denied saying any such thing and added: 'If Mr Berbizier says otherwise, I'll take the matter up with the SRU.' At midnight in Dublin, interpreters were still trying to get to the bottom of the mystery.

It did not concern Gerry Murphy. What did was the performance of the French captain, Jean-Francois Tordo. 'I'm surprised he's still got a head on his shoulders,' the Irish coach said. 'He was offside all the time. Only a Scottish referee would let him get away with it because that is the way the Scots play.' Thankfully, Tordo and his torso were at one. Murphy did not mean it. 'Now gentlemen,' he said, 'if you'll excuse me I'm going off to drink a great deal of gin.' The man deserves a longer straw.

Ireland: Penalties Malone 2; France: Tries: Saint-Andre, Sella; Conversion: Camberabero; Penalties: Camberabero 2; Drop Goal: Camberabero.

IRELAND: C Clarke (Terenure College); S Geoghegan (London Irish), V Cunningham (St Mary's Coll), P Danaher (Garryowen), R Wallace (Garryowen); N Malone (London Irish), M Bradley (Cork Constitution, capt); N Popplewell (Greystones), T Kingston (Dolphin), P Clohessy (Young Munster), N Francis (Blackrock College), P Johns (Dungannon), D McBride (Malone), P O'Hara (Cork Constitution), M Galwey (Shannon). Replacement: B Glennon (Lansdowne) for Danaher, 73.

FRANCE: J-B Lafond (Begles); P Saint-Andre (Montferrand), P Sella (Agen), T Lacroix (Dax), P Hontas (Biarritz); D Camberabero (Beziers), A Hueber (Toulon); L Armary (Lourdes), J-F Tordo (Nice, capt), L Seigne (Merignac), A Benazzi (Agen), O Roumat (Dax), P Benetton (Agen), M Cecillon (Bourgoin), L Cabannes (Racing).

Referee: D Leslie (Scotland).