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'Group of death' no excuse for Irish shambles

Seeking to rationalise Ireland's World Cup debacle, the best explanation head coach Eddie O'Sullivan could produce was the timing of the tournament hindered Six Nations teams.

The rousing march of England and France to a gripping semi-final showdown exploded that myth, plunging Ireland's flops into an even greater state of bewilderment.

A group exit was a dire outcome for a team which arrived in France with genuine, and seemingly realistic, ambitions of reaching the semi-finals.

But from the start things were clearly amiss, a shambolic 32-17 victory over Pool D cannon fodder Namibia setting a worrying tone for the rest of the competition.

They sank to greater depths against Georgia, edging an enthralling contest 14-10 but only after some desperate defending denied the magnificent Eastern Europeans a try two minutes from time.

Defeat to Georgia would probably have been the greatest rugby upset of all time and the business end of the group stage brought even greater calamity.

France hardly broke sweat as they strolled to a 25-3 triumph and Argentina finally put the Irish out of their misery, emerging 30-15 victors.

Large error counts, poor discipline and a lack of cohesion were themes running throughout the campaign and Ireland bore little resemblance to the side that had dazzled during the previous year.

O'Sullivan laid some of the blame on the make up of Ireland's pool, dubbed the 'group of death', and would have been justified in doing so had his side just missed out on the quarter-finals.

But to be so far off the pace in qualifying, they finished an astonishing nine points adrift of pool winner Argentina, was lamentable.

Only two players emerged from the World Cup with their reputation intact, the unflappable Girvan Dempsey and skipper Brian O'Driscoll.

O'Driscoll led the death or glory charge against Argentina but had little support with many of Ireland's big guns - Gordon D'Arcy, Ronan O'Gara and Paul O'Connell among them - misfiring yet again.

O'Gara, who has strenuously denied allegations of gambling and marital problems that surfaced during the World Cup, was possibly the greatest disappointment of all.

The Irish camp was often a gloomy place to be, low in morale and bereft of confidence, and the remarkable number of rumours that engulfed the team was a
clear symptom of the problems within.

But while the players were a bitter disappointment, it is O'Sullivan's reputation that has taken the biggest battering.

The 48-year-old cut a forlorn figure by the end, despite his defiance in voicing his determination to continue as coach.

His failure to inspire the team from their slump and the extraordinary refusal to make extensive changes when players were clearly off-key will not be
forgotten quickly.

O'Sullivan, who was ludicrously awarded a four-year contract extension a week before the World Cup began, must restore his credibility in the Six Nations.

Failure to do so should spell the end of his six-year reign as Ireland coach, in the process extinguishing any hopes of leading the 2009 Lions.