The scars of battle were etched on the face of Ireland captain Paul O’Connell, but the hurt of the errors that brought about Ireland’s 32 – 15 home defeat to Australia run deeper.
Ireland shipped four tries the demoralising November Test loss and left new coach Joe Schmidt snowed under with areas to improve for the clash against his native New Zealand next Sunday.
Two sweeping back-line moves helped the Wallabies into a 12 – 15 half-time lead at the Aviva Stadium. Both tries were avoidable, coming from missed or hesitant tackles in the defensive line.
However, as the man charged with leading the pack, the score which seemed to hurt O’Connell most was Michael Hooper’s second, off the back of a a second half maul.
“Any team at any level will talk about defending mauls close to your own line,” said the skipper in typically forthright tone.
“You just can’t concede tries there and that’s a really disappointing aspect of our performance as a pack.
“The two tries in the first half, they went width to width and it’s disappointing how tight we got there. We spoke about how we needed to hold width if we were able to take line speed.”
He added: “A lot of the stuff is quickly rectifiable.”
One factor which is often taken for granted in an Irish international side is the intensity that is required to take on a physical contest.
Ronan O’Gara spoke immediately post-match about how he felt Ireland’s body language had been on the losing side long before the final whistle. And after an unusually quiet soundtrack was provided by the Irish players, O’Connell moved to echo that sentiment.
“They got a few turnovers and you could see how high the emotion was in comparison to ours. That was disappointing from our point of view. We still have things to learn under Joe. There’s a lot of technical stuff we need to get right, but you can’t lose track of that aggression and intensity that’s required at Test rugby as well.”
The All Blacks are nothing if not clinical and the areas in which Ireland were lacking will be exaggerated when facing the best team in the world – who will have the carrot of completing a season with a perfect winning record. O’Connell though, believes the personnel within the squad are capable of righting the wrongs withing eight days.
“There’s a lot of disappointment in there and a good core group of experienced top class players.
“We have a lot of belief in the coaching staff, a lot of belief in ourselves. We’re disappointed with what we delivered today and we’ll be making sure there’s no repeat of that next week.”
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