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Gatland's job on the line
February 6, 2000

Warren Gatland's days as Ireland coach are looking numbered in the wake of Saturday's crushing defeat by England.

The opening Lloyds TSB Six Nations encounter at Twickenham was always going to be pivotal for the men in charge and, while Clive Woodward can certainly sleep more comfortably in his bed after an impressive show from his men, Gatland appears to be on borrowed time following another inept performance by the Irish.

The former All Black hooker fronted up at the post-match news conference, putting on a brave smile when the inevitable question came and insisting he was no quitter, and even began looking ahead to the ``huge game'' against the devastated Scots at Lansdowne Road on Saturday week.

Whether Gatland will still be in charge by then is a moot point. There were calls for his head in the aftermath of Ireland's World Cup flop and Italy's dramatic change of fortune with a new man at the helm will not have gone unnoticed among the IRFU hierarchy.

Regardless of a backroom overhaul, changes among the playing personnel are inevitable given Ireland's catastrophic collective failure to compete with an England side able to dominate at will.

The management were today holding an inquest into the team's ability to adapt to the rule changes _ Ireland never recovered from an early 10-2 penalty count _ but of greater concern was the failure of individuals to make the step up to international rugby.

Former England coach Jack Rowell claimed today that domestic rugby in Ireland compares pitifully with the Allied Dunbar Premiership and Gatland revealed that the championship newcomers had found the gap between European Cup rugby and the Six Nations too challenging.

Players who had enjoyed notable success with Munster and Leinster quickly discovered, as did the Ulstermen 12 months earlier, that international rugby was a different kettle of fish altogether.

After being handed a reprieve from the World Cup knockout by Argentina, Saturday's debacle may well have signalled the beginning of the end for people like Conor O'Shea and Dion O'Cuinneagain, who gave way to Girvan Dempsey and Trevor Brennan long before the final whistle.

New lock Bob Casey also looked out of his depth, although like O'Cuinneagain he appeared to be struggling with injury, and half-backs David Humphreys and Tom Tierney, although unfortunate to be starved of possession, may not be able to resist the competition from Ronan O'Gara and Peter Stringer much longer.

Lock Jeremy Davidson will return, fitness permitting, for the Scotland game and there will be calls, too, for the recall of number eight Victor Costello, who many feel was jettisoned far too readily.

Among the few redeeming features of a lacklustre display were the flashes of class from centre Brian O'Driscoll, arguably the only Irishman who would claim a place in the star-studded England back division, the workrate of flanker Keiron Dawson and the substitute appearances of forwards Trevor Brennan and Mick Galwey.

Re-appointed Ireland captain Keith Wood, who has yet to lead his team to victory after 10 attempts, struggled to find words of comfort among the wreckage of a fifty-point hammering.

He said: ``Our ball retention at times was very good. It was one of the few grains of comfort we took from the game.

``But it was bad for us to give away so many penalties and it was pretty difficult to defend against wave after wave of attack.''

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