Home rulers' growing pains

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The Independent Online

There are a lot of wounds to be licked and many disappointments to overcome before our international teams resume action in the Six Nations' Championship in February and I fancy Ireland will have the hardest repair job to do on their morale.

There are a lot of wounds to be licked and many disappointments to overcome before our international teams resume action in the Six Nations' Championship in February and I fancy Ireland will have the hardest repair job to do on their morale.

Each of the four teams forced to watch the Rugby World Cup get along without them this weekend have reason to spend a while contemplating their follies, but Ireland have more to fret about than the others. They should have beaten Argentina in the play-offs and, at anything like top form, would have had a great chance against France in Dublin last Sunday.

England, Scotland and Wales haven't much to sing about but they were knocked out by powerful teams and, at least, they got themselves into some sort of promising shape for the tournament. Ireland haven't developed their game since the Five Nations and had nothing fresh to offer.

Their coach, Warren Gatland, will be dismayed by their lack of progress because, on paper, they had the easiest route through to the semi-finals. Their main weakness was plain to see - they needed to be far more creative behind the scrum. And, I believe, their reliance on Keith Wood had a part to play in this.

No one admires Keith more than me but, because of the high expectations placed on him, he was taking every good ball from the first ruck. As good as he is, he can't do it all the time and some of that ball should have gone out to the backs. It was sad to see how much they underachieved.

In contrast, Scotland came out of the World Cup with a lot of credit after their second-half performance against New Zealand. But, here again, was a case of a team that should have done better. They might well have beaten South Africa if they had played to their potential.

The key might have been Gregor Townsend. He didn't play at all well against South Africa. Had he played in the same form and style that he showed against Samoa I really do feel that the Scots might have overcome the Springboks at that early stage of the tournament.

The Welsh have to content themselves with the superb improvement they've made under Graham Henry over the last 12 months. They did what they set out to do by reaching the quarter-finals but they didn't achieve it convincingly.

They should have beaten Samoa and then they would have gone into the quarter-final against Australia with the confidence of an 11-match home unbeaten run. As bravely as they fought against the Aussies, they were undone by a lack of pace and creativity in the vital areas.

There was a real chance, when the score was locked at 10-9 for such a long time, that they could have swung the balance of the game in their favour.

Had Neil Jenkins succeeded when he attempted a drop-goal early in the second half, Australia might not have reacted well to being 10-12 down. Although I felt Australia were the better team and had far more pace behind, the game could have gone either way at that point.

At least Jenks tried something to break the deadlock. Looking at the Welsh game and the England-South Africa match the following day, you realised how important the defences were. The Australian defence was so solid in the middle part of the game they laid the foundation for their victory.

And it was because he was mindful of the strength of the England rearguard that Nick Mallett, South Africa's coach, planned the tactics that led to England's collapse in Paris.

The drop-goal is a deadly weapon, especially when you have surprise on your side. Jannie de Beer did it so well he didn't need surprise. It really was a terrific achievement. I always enjoyed scoring drop-goals but I would have laughed at the thought of five in one game.

It amazes me that since it happened people have scoffed at drop-goals as an easy option. They should go and try one from 30 yards without any pressure.

Doing it from 45 yards in a game of that magnitude is brilliant. It was a great tactical move and was brilliantly executed by De Beer and those who set up the chances.

England might have helped their cause by stepping up their chase for charge-downs when they realised how vulnerable they were to De Beer's boot but poor adaptability was the key to England's failure as it was for the others.

I can't see it happening again. If it does, how long will it be before the points reward is cut down. The drop has already been cut from four to three. It might end up at just one point as it is in rugby league. That would be a shame because a long-range drop-goal is a great sight and will be remembered as a trade-mark of this World Cup as it was of the last.