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  • Irish Rugby post RWC

    The Golden generation, and the best we have ever had, are some of the terms that have been thrown about when talking about the current Ireland rugby squad. While that is undoubtedly fair comment, here we are again in the aftermath of another deflating Irish rugby/sports experience. While it would be easy to criticise the players for a poor/non-performance, it appeared to me that they carried out what they were told to do, but when it wasn’t working, there was a complete inflexibility to react differently on the pitch.

    Frankie Sheahan put forward that the Ireland v Wales match was all about how good Wales were, rather than indicating anything bad about Ireland. I would suggest that is a half truth. Here was a relatively inexperienced Welsh team, made up of youngsters and the less alcoholic underachieving remnants of the previous drinking culture, playing a familiar Welsh rush defence, against a massively experienced Irish team with a Grand Slam, Triple Crowns and a glittering array of Heineken/Magners medals in their piggy bank. And, we were assured, supremely prepared for the tournament, yet ominously, we couldn’t win a warm up match.

    Is one was to be uncharitable, you might say that we were poor against the USA, lucky that Australia had so many crucial injuries, put away an amateur Russian team and did enough against a one dimensional Italian side who had us under pressure until Castrogiovanni went off injured. However, why was it that the Irish team couldn’t cope against Wales ? Were they in a straight-jacket as regards the game plan, or was it psychological weight of being favourites ? The latter would be ironic considering the ability to manage that aspect is supposed to be one of the strengths of the inscrutable Mr Kidney. This World Cup is the continuation of a long sorry tale of Irish failure. While it might appear harsh to include this year’s expedition as failure, it is when you consider the position they were in. When it came down to it, yet again Ireland walk away from this tournament with a heap of regrets.

    Clearly there were a lot of things in the mix,

    • why is it that Irish teams appear to play with inflexible instructions ? Yet another tournament where this Golden Generation appear so rigid in the sacred game plan, that when it is clearly not working, they appear unable or unwilling to change ? Is that a failure on behalf of the coaches or the team ? Perhaps the players on this team are there so long because they have given up notions of individuality a long time ago ?

    • when it wasn’t working against Wales, what were the management doing to change our game plan ? It has been obvious that Kidney has been trying to get Ireland to play a type of McGahanball, a style that has long since been found out to be unsuitable and largely futile against the better teams who are prepared to stand up to it. Kidney has serious questions to answer about this.

    • In fact, on matters of selection, the coach also has questions, from the selection of Darcy, to the selection of a wrecked shouldered Brian O’Driscoll, to the scrumhalf mess where he was actually going to bring O’Leary and ending up bringing Boss ahead of Stringer. He had such faith in Reddan that he dropped him for a novice who could pass but then had no option off the bench. The selection of Buckley is still a mystery. And the outhalf debate rumbled on….

    • I would suggest Ireland (and more importantly Munster) need to become a lot less Australian in their style of rugby, and play more to our strengths. That is not 8/10 man rugby, but rather, have a structure and the outline of a game plan, but allow our players the freedom to play as the situation demands. It isn’t rocket science, but I guess when you are stuffing big bucks into your pocket, you are more inclined to dress it all up.

    • On a higher level, how can Wales go to Spala and come back super fit, while we came back with feet of lead , 4 years ago, and then abandoned the idea of it ?

    • How come we didn’t learn from 4 years ago and give our coaching staff new contracts before the RWC ? Interesting to see that the FAI appear to have learned from the same mistake.
    So, where do we go to from here ? We have a largely aging squad, a fair number of whom are tied into international contracts for another 18 months. Do we keep the steady ship and keep selecting them, or do we clear the decks ? I suspect that the IRFU will want to play as many as possible so as to be competitive as possible in the 6N for the next 2 seasons, since they have to pay for them anyway.

    In reality, they probably should be doing a mix over the next 18 months

    Front Row :

    Continue to develop Healy, while hoping that someone like Darragh Hurley finally comes through for competition. Court is only so-so, but at least cover in the short term.

    Well served here at hooker, Best will be 33 at the next RWC, while Cronin will be 29 (and the likes of Mike Sherry will be 27). There’s plenty of competition here. Flannery should be cut loose, if he doesn’t retire from international rugby himself.

    Ross would be pushing 36 at the next RWC, while there isn’t much else at the moment. Perhaps Stewart Maguire or Jamie Hagan might step up but one thing is for sure, the IRFU need to get their backsides into gear and co-ordinate & fund the NATIONAL development of the scrum in this country.

    We, as a rugby nation have been a disgrace for too long, when it comes to our attitude towards the scrum. At the moment, it looks like Leinster are going about it properly, with everyone else trailing in varying degrees.

    Second Row :

    At the next RWC, Paul O’Connell would be 36, O’Callaghan heading for 37, Cullen – 38, Ryan – 31/32, Toner – 29, Dave Foley – 27, Nagle – 27. There is an imperative to start changing the second row as soon as possible, and I believe that should start with Ryan starting the 6N ahead of Donncha. Ryan showed up very well at the RWC and finally appears to be living up to his earlier promise.

    Backrow :

    We are very well served here for the next RWC with what remains and what is coming through. A true Openside remains an issue though.

    Scrumhalf :

    Now that we finally have a true successor to the fast pass of Peter Stringer in Conor Murray, we need to continue playing him. The concern though is who the back up will be in the medium term ?

    Outhalf :

    Sexton has to be the first choice outhalf, with Keatley moved onto the bench by the end of the 6N season. We now need competition between Sexton and Keatley, not Sexton and Rog.

    Centres :

    McFadden’s time has come, and must start the 6N ahead to D’Arcy. Andrew Trimble must also be included in the Irish team. We need to start looking at an Irish team moving on without O’Driscoll. Perhaps we will see the likes of JJ Hanrahan and Eoin O’Malley pushing on over the next couple of years.

    Wings :

    Plenty of cover here, though it will be interesting to see if Earls and/or Bowe decides to settle on the wing, or try centre again.

    Fullback :

    Kearney and Felix Jones will take us forward, and who knows who else will come through.

    Conclusion

    This was another “What if” World Cup, when the old adage of “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail” was never so true, not this time in terms of logistical and conditioning preparation, but rather in terms of skills-to-the-job preparation. The IRFU must stand indicted for allowing a malaise to grow in Ireland over the years, that it is ok not to have the adequate basic skills for your position.

    There has been a willingness to accept mediocrity in basic skills, as long as they brought something flashy to the party, whether it is scrumhalves who pass a ball like it’s a brick, an outhalf who resembles a turnstile when tackling, a prop who doesn’t know how to scrummage, or indeed a hooker who can’t throw the ball straight into a lineout. One might also include one dimensional, tactically limited coaches.

    Foreign teams have targeted these basic weaknesses in Irish teams for decades, and even in this professional age, Irish management still pick players in positions that they are unable to fill at provincial level, let alone international level. This must stop. We must also allow our teams to have the freedom to change things on the pitch, if the sacred game plan isn’t working. Stop playing by numbers.

    This is not an overnight thing you can fix but it should be acknowledged by the IRFU, and in future, they must address it, especially the front row. The only problem is that the IRFU never admit mistakes, and whether it is the skills deficit or the failure to properly structure rugby into defined Professional/Amateur areas, where they have failed to take responsibility for the proper reorganisation of rugby in Ireland. While one must acknowledge the tremendous work done on a financial level, they can no longer allow rugby to remain rudderless on most other levels. There is also too much power hungry politics being played by the big AIL clubs at senior level, and the A schools at Underage level. There are plenty more Sean O'Briens out there, but it requires a leadership role by the IRFU to allow them to come through.

    Finally, we need to get away from this Australian Rugby League syndrome that has afflicted the Munster and Ireland teams, where we don’t commit enough numbers to the breakdown and expect a try after 20 phases, ignoring the fact that the 20 phases may have only yielded 20 metres. Both Munster and Ireland need a far more pragmatic hard-nosed view, not back to 8/10 man rugby but hopefully getting us to playing the right rugby as the situation demands.
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