Levels of Importance

If Kidney’s favourite mantra of the last six months has been the yawning chasm between test rugby and Heineken Cup rugby, the theme for the coming season has become clear this week; how much more important playing for your country is than for your province.  Similar, but subtly different.  Brian O’Driscoll – always the man to get the party line across to the media – underlined all this in an interview with Simon Hick on Monday night.  Being a provincial legend is all well and good, he said, but the players and fans – don’t forget the fans – have to remember that it’s playing for your country that’s the greatest honour and to which the greatest importance must be attached.

This season always looked like one in which the national team would strike back at the increasingly successful and popular provinces, and this is just another part of the process.   That’s the same process that sees a 30-strong group of players convening in Carton House this week for a bit of training and, it would seem, some manly chats about where the team is going and how to correct the slide.

There’s shades of ‘All Back to 2008’ about this.  When we last heard this sort of thing aired, it was when ROG said the players ‘needed to buy into the green shirt a bit more’ in the aftermath of Munster’s second string giving New Zealand a right good scare, just days after Ireland barely fired a shot against them.  And we all know what came next.  But can the old magic be conjured up again?

While it’s difficult to argue with the message in and of itself, it’s not the sort of thing that can be manufactured.  It’s all well and good telling the public that the green jersey is more important than the provincial one, but it can only be truly demonstrated on the pitch. And Sexton’s argument that the players must perform a notch better in green than with the provinces is perfectly fine, except that it is apparent that the coaching and tactics enable a much higher performance level with the provinces than with Ireland.  Wasn’t it Sexton himself who once said that he was “delighted to be back in an environment where you know exactly what the coaches want of you”?  We’ll leave it to you to guess which environment he was describing.

The first port of call for the IRFU is selling tickets to the upcoming November internationals, and they’re not an attractive bunch of fixtures.  Ireland play Fiji in Limerick and the dull, grinding Boks and Pumas will aim to do their thing at the Aviva.  It’s hard to look good against any of them and the public will expect wins against Argentina and Fiji.  Ireland must win all three to deliver a positive series and build momentum for the Six Nations.  Failure to do so and the pressure gets ramped up another notch.  This season has a ‘last days of Rome’ air about it for the national coaching ticket.

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19 Comments

  1. Walter Sobchak

     /  September 26, 2012

    It’s all well & good rolling out the players and having them repeat the mantra that they must improve & “buy” into the jersey more but is there any sign of the management team improving? or even attempt to improve? The only answer you can give is no. They insist on sticking with a plan that isn’t working and then won’t even contemplate bringing in new people who might be able to help.

    • Completely agree. Passion will only carry a team so far, regardless of how talented they are. A change of structure, tone and tactics from a coaching perspective will do an awful lot more for this Ireland team.
      Also what self-respecting Irishman needs to ‘buy’ into the jersey? If I got the chance once or a hundred chances to play for Ireland, you can be guaranteed I’d give it everything.
      I think BOD is actually protecting Deccy by saying this and not facing up to his shortcomings as national coach.

      • Stevo

         /  September 26, 2012

        Absolutely BOD is protecting Kidney by saying this, which I’m sure he feels is his job as captain. Also, given that this could possibly be his last season in green, I doubt he would see the benefit of sowing discord between players and management. The current coaching team will be in place until next summer no matter what, so better just to get on with it.

      • Jimbob

         /  September 26, 2012

        Not saying he should sow discord; that helps nobody. It should be left unsaid so that when Kidney’s review comes up he has nothing to hide behind.

      • I don’t think BOD is ever going to be the type to publicly rail against the man in charge. Privately, he might have a different opinion, who knows.

  2. Stevo

     /  September 26, 2012

    Back in 2008 there were definite problems in the squad on the back of disastrous World Cup and Six Nations campaigns. If these were sorted it was because of a common will to do so combined with the efforts of the new coaching set-up. It wasn’t so much that certain factions weren’t giving as much in the green, the important thing was that the question was asked. Grievances were aired and the team was able to unite and move on. The problems facing the squad right now are different, and best highlighted by the Johnny Sexton quote given above. We need a new coaching team to take us in a new direction and make better use of the assets we have.

    • We would wholly agree with you Stevo. It seems that national team feel the only way to improve results is to shift the good performances from the provinces to the national team. It’s almost as if they believe there’s a fixed amount of good rugby available and it needs to be re-allocated. Surely we should be trying to increase the amount of good rugby the players can play. It’s the old ‘grow the pie rather than fight for the bigger slice’ argument.

  3. Contraflow

     /  September 26, 2012

    There’s shades of ‘All Back to 2008′ about this.

    Is there not one crucial difference with 2008? Namely we had a new coach back then, therefore new voice, ideas and culture. Despite the “home truths” pow wow the players recently had, I fear the old voice, old ideas and old culture will gradually reclaim them like an incoming tide.

    I wonder were management part of the players “home truths” hoedown i.e. were any criticisms made of the coaching staff/structures/techniques and were these communicated to the coaching staff and were they receptive to making changes emanating from players? If this didn’t happen, it’s quite a relief, as all we really need to happen now is for players to buy into the national team to the same extent as they do with their provinces. So all we really need is a mental shift in our players thought processes and a repeat of 2009 lays before us like a ripened apple, just waiting to be plucked from an over-burdened bough.

    • Absolutely Contraflow – I think it was Franno this wek who said that ‘after too many clear-the-air talks the room becomes starved of oxygen’. It’s not a well you can go to very often.

  4. Redhanded

     /  September 26, 2012

    The IRFU pleading to ensure the national team are seen as top dogs doesn’t seem to be reflected in their actions. If the national team are the most important, then surely they need top notch support for strength and conditioning, scrummaging, attack and other key aspects of the same? The IRFU’s failure or tardiness staffing these positions has been reported in a limited fashion…. Have they reached the stage when they don’t want to bring anyone in for a 1 year + contract as a new coach will want his own team…?

    • On your final question: a regular commenter on here was saying as much yesterday. I suspect it’s that Kidney feels he doesn’t need it. There was ample opportunity to bring in an attacking coach after the World Cup, but it didn’t happen, for whatever reason.

  5. Len

     /  September 26, 2012

    I am worried about the autumn internationals. As you point out we realistically need to win all three games and I’m not sure we can. Games against the Pumas have been tough and quite close (bar some late break away tries) in recent meetings. Like Italy their a team that continues to improve and and they had more regular worthwhile rugby this season than at any previous time. SA will be there usual tough ask to beat and I think we could struggle up front against them this time. Worst case scenario there is that we loose Ross or Healy and have Deci’s plan c (for Court) called up. The game I’m actually worried about the most is the Fiji game. If memory serves me correct this is to be a wolfhounds game and while I like the idea of our A side fronting up against a better class of opposition I fear management could use this as either an opportunity to run out some of the old guard or a load of new players but that they will fail to get the balance right. The fact that this would be a one off game for the wolfhounds also increases the likelyhood of errors from lack of game time together. I wouldn’t be surprised to see us finish the autumn series winless. Not a plesent though be certainly possible.

  6. In terms of hiring and firing coaches, a rule of thumb to follow is that you do the opposite of anything the RFU might consider. So don’t give assistant coaches longer contracts than the head coach, or you’ll end up with something like the funeral-baked meats of the Robinson era coldly furnishing forth Ashton and Jonno’s wedding tables. Don’t appoint a caretaker, as he could luck into some results and then you’d have to appoint him to the top job. Don’t sack someone in November and then search around desperately for a high-quality coach with some honour and integrity who’s luckily out of contract. And don’t appoint a coach just because he’s willing and available. Just take time, identify the best coach that Ireland can get, and then offer him the job.

    I’m guessing that Joe Schmidt isn’t a candidate, as the IRFU would presumably have sounded him out after the Hamilton debacle. He’s reluctant to commit long-term to Leinster, and the same presumably applies to Ireland. If anything, Mark Anscombe and Rob Penney are more likely candidates, as they’ve burned some bridges with the NZRU. Then there’s Conor O’Shea, whose employers would have to be paid off, so that may make him a less attractive prospect.

    Like Redhanded, I think the IRFU would have difficulty attracting any backs coach of quality to uproot himself for the promise of 9 months employment as part of a failing coaching ticket. We’re stuck with what we have.

    • Love the bit about the funeral-baked meats, Henry. Looks like Schmidt isn’t a realistic candidate for the head role, given his desire to return home at some stage in the near future. Penney will only be a year into his job at Munster, might be a bit soon for him. Conor O’Shea would be a very interesting candidate, payoff or otherwise.

      I’d echo Keith Wood’s comments on OTB last night, for Joe Schmidt to be recruited in the short term to coach Ireland’s attack. Won’t happen in a month of Sundays, of course.

      • Has Schmidt publicly said he is leaving after this season or is this just something thornley has been peddling to protect kidders position? I admit it sounds plausible that Schmidt would move on, but afaik I have only heard thornley make this statement, and he repeats it quite often. Thoughts?

    • doughballs

       /  September 27, 2012

      Demented Mole has a couple of articles up on the current woes facing Australia. ‘Dingo’ Deans’ head is as ever approaching the chopping block. It might role around the same time as Kidney’s. A Kiwi headcoach working with three Kiwi headcoaches in the provinces. A national playing philosophy? Joined up thinking? Any thoughts…

  7. LaighinPitOperative

     /  September 26, 2012

    I think you’re being incredibly unfair on the Stiddy-Dickie coaching ticket. I mean, did the Roman Empire even win a Grand Slam before the Fall?

  8. zdm

     /  September 26, 2012

    I’ve said before, we are headed for a mediocre coach because the national team is currently in such a shambles that it won’t attract a big name – in my opinion, this is why Deccie hasn’t been hoisted already.
    Why, for example, would Schmidt leave Leinster or O’Sea (please please please let it be him) leave Quins?

    I have a hunch that Mark McCall will get the job.

    • Au contraire, the worse the malaise the current coach finds himself in, the better the job can appear to outsiders! It’s following succesful acts where the only way is down that coaches would approach with trepidation.

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