Exorcising the Hamilton horror show

23 November 2013 08:05

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Exorcising the Hamilton horror show

O'Driscoll insists Ireland must 'give everything' to restore pride after record massacre

It led to the hangover of hangovers in both sports, the lingering doom and gloom eventually seeing off the coaches of both teams who are looking to come out the other side fully 17 months later.

The footballers returned to Poznan and exorcised some ghosts on Tuesday, but the process could prove a little bit more difficult for their rugby brethren, who must face their demons on Sunday.

If those that remain from Hamilton are tossing and turning tomorrow night, it is with good reason. Brian O'Driscoll admitted that the last meeting has to be used as a reference point this week and the video is anything but pretty. New Zealand won 60-0 and left opportunities to score more behind them. Ireland were wretched.

There were some mitigating factors for losing, Paddy Wallace was whisked from a Portuguese beach to face down Sonny Bill Williams, Jamie Heaslip missed out through injury, while it was the last game of a marathon World Cup season and the final leg of a horribly misjudged three-Test tour of the toughest rugby nation in the world.

Ireland had just gone as close as they had in years to beating the All Blacks, coming up three points short. They gave everything in Christchurch in search of history and couldn't get over the line. When they went to the well again a week later, they fell in.

Before last season, Declan Kidney looked to address the hangover head on, with his cure coming in the form of a meeting in a Lansdowne Road suite where the players were made to relive the nightmare.

Johnny Sexton recalled the meeting in the opening chapter of his book and he doesn't paint a pretty picture.

"It's a kick in the balls, to be honest, sitting there in the semi-darkness, reliving it, complete with the soundtrack of the Kiwi commentators," he wrote.

"We watch some clips from our heartbreaking near miss in Christchurch, but mostly it's the Hamilton horror show – Aaron Cruden and Sonny Bill Williams carving us up, Hosea Gear biffing tacklers aside, Israel Dagg cruising over the try-line. It's as if we're being told, 'This is not acceptable for a team that considers itself contenders'. No s**t, Sherlock."

Unfortunately, Kidney's attempt to nip Hamilton in the bud failed to generate the required results. He may have lasted until March, but his fate was sealed on that winter's night in New Zealand.

Even at this remove, the tape is one to be watched through the fingers. The ease at which the All Blacks carved Ireland apart time after time was something to behold, with Cruden pulling the strings in as complete a 23 minutes as you will see from an understudy out-half.

It was a blessing for the tourists when he pulled up and had to be replaced midway through the first half. Having given the try-scoring pass – two of which were wondrous off-loads – for each of New Zealand's tries and converted two, he had already done the damage.

For Rob Kearney, it was the nadir of a fine career. He was harshly sin-binned in the final play of the first half for a dubious deliberate knock on. New Zealand had scored 15 points by the time he returned. It was, he says, an "embarrassment" and however Ireland try this week there is no escaping the fact that it will have to be addressed.

"There will be that at the back of our minds. But our performance that day was so far off from the standards that we set for ourselves as a team and it's important not to look too much at results on scoreboards and things like that," Kearney said.

"If we can just think through the moments and the process of doing things right every few phases then the rest will look after itself."

The defeat represented O'Driscoll's last chance in a country that he will look back on with mixed emotions when he retires. He gave a bluntly honest interview to New Zealand television on the Hamilton pitch after his worst day in an Ireland jersey and admitted that the squad would have to reference a day they would sooner forget this week.

"I'm sure it will be mentioned, yeah, because they will have had some plays in that game that they would more than likely have scored against us with, so you can't ignore what happened," he said.

"People would feel the last time we played them that we embarrassed ourselves and we absolutely can't do that and allow it to happen at home.

"It shouldn't happen full stop but certainly never at home, so that's why we have to give everything in the game and hopefully all of our accuracy and all of our planning, our set-piece and other small aspects of our game will come together to produce the performance we are looking for."

Jamie Heaslip was in the stands for the Hamilton massacre and when he takes to the field on Sunday he will have Christchurch a week previous as his reference point.

Had the tour ended after Dan Carter's drop goal had denied Ireland a draw, the tour could have been seen as a relative success and 2012/13 might have gotten off to a more positive start.

Ireland showed that day that they can make the best team in the world look ordinary.

"That was the last time I played against them," the No 8 recalled. "We had utter belief in ourselves that day. We were really, really accurate. When I was sitting down after that game – I stayed on for a week in New Zealand – when we had the ball we controlled our ball very well.

"We went through phases and we went at them. But the access points we gave them into the game were when we weren't accurate, be it a penalty, letting them off the hook when we were killing them in their '22'.

"That is what happened in the last five minutes. We were going round the corner, going after them, resourcing the ball, creating quick ball.

"Then, a knock on. Scrum. Penalty. Kicked down the field. Went to the line-out. Couple of phases. Got another penalty. Kicked to the corner. Line-out. Couple of rucks. And then he gets the drop goal.

"That is the type of team they are. You make a mistake against them and they can just quickly turn around a game".

Richie McCaw referenced that 22-19 victory this week. Typically, the All Blacks captain isn't dwelling on the Hamilton clash, but the three-point get-out-of-jail effort in Christchurch.

"There isn't much between the top teams, there really isn't, and as you could see the pressure came on in that second Test last year," McCaw recalled.

"The Irish played particularly well, we got put under pressure and made mistakes and it can change really quick. So we're going into this game this week understanding that if we don't get it spot on, we open the door for the team that we're playing against.

"And the Irish are good enough to take those chances, I've no doubt, if we go in there and allow them the freedom to play.

"Yeah, they'll be hurting, I'm sure. That sort of emotion will mean they've had a pretty good week and they'll want to go and turn it around."

There is no perfect cure for a bad hangover, each one is different. Ireland have tried every which way possible to cast Hamilton from their psyche and nothing appears to have worked.

Taking on the team that put 60 points on them last time out head-first might just do the trick. Whether it's enough to win is doubtful, but it might just clear the air.

Source: independent.ie

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