Why the Wings Have Been Ireland's Biggest Disappointment of RBS 6 Nations
Ireland’s crown has slipped this year. The back-to-back Six Nations champions have endured a draw and two defeats in their opening three games.
It was not the rehabilitation coach Joe Schmidt had in mind following their demolition at the hands of Argentina in the 2015 World Cup quarter-final.
Injuries have played a part in their current predicament. Paul O’Connell is gone, Peter O’Mahony is out for the tournament and Sean O’Brien limped off in Paris, ending his involvement this year.
Further knocks have waylaid other notable players as the men in green have struggled to put an impressive performance together.
And it is out wide where their lack of finishing power has proved the most troubling aspect of their campaign so far.
Let's assess why.
1. Missing Men
Tommy Bowe has been missing since a serious cruciate ligament injury sidelined him against Argentina.
The Ulsterman has been one of Ireland's most consistent Six Nations performers since they began this period of challenging for and winning titles.
But since Joe Schmidt took charge, the 32-year-old has been beset by injury, per Joe Callaghan in the Irish Examiner, who wrote: "Bowe is missing his third Six Nations out of the last four. By the time Ireland wrap up the campaign, he will have missed as many games of the Joe Schmidt era as he has made—16 of each."
And his absence is not helping the poor try return Ireland are offering up in 2016. They have scored just twice in the tournament so far, after registering only eight on their way to the 2015 title.
Luke Fitzgerald, another Test Lion, is also missing for this tournament, further downgrading the firepower at Schmidt's disposal.
Add to that the injury that wrecked Dave Kearney in Paris and experience on the flanks is starting to look bare save for Andrew Trimble and Keith Earls.
The closest they have come to fashioning a try out wide was the break from centre Robbie Henshaw at Twickenham, when he was tackled into touch before he could ground the ball.
2. The Narrow Game Plan
This second reason is linked to the first. With so many players missing from their wing stocks, it begins to make sense that Ireland's attacking strategy has narrowed.
High balls and hard charges from their back row and bruising midfield have comprised much of the game plan this season, which has meant little created for their wide player to finish off.
This was highlighted against England, who very deliberately tried to generate multiple phases at high speed to suck Ireland in before unleashing their wide player.
The plan worked twice in quick succession in the second half and resulted in tries for Anthony Watson and Mike Brown.
3. Short of True Greatness
It may sound harsh to cite the fact there is no player of genuine legendary status playing in a high-numbered shirt for Ireland currently, and it's certainly harsh to harp on about the chance Henshaw had so brilliantly snatched from him by that Jack Nowell tackle.
But the Irish Independent's Neil Francis made the point that "the great ones get it done at the first and possibly only time of asking."
Ireland are not creating a bag full of opportunities at the moment, so when those chances come in those tight spaces with the corner flag just centimetres away, they need to "get it done."