Systems Failure

A few years ago TG4 stated a series called ‘Rugbai Gold’ where they showed ‘classic’ matches from the 1970s and 1980s. To those of us whose memories of those games consisted of, at best, watching them on our parents’ knees, it was like watching a different sport to the one on display today. Backs were tiny, jerseys were enormous billowing cotton things, scrum-halves passed the ball with a full-length horizontal dive thrown in, the lineout was a back-alley brawl where the team with the throw had a marginally better chance of winning the ball, and if they did it was the pig ugly sort you could do nothing with. And the scrums! About 90 of them a match, and largely self-regulated, more a means to restart the game than a licence to draw penalties from the opposition. The rucks were generally a pile-up where you could flop in off your feet at your leisure. Well, at least some things never change.

Yes, indeed, it was a different sport – until John Langford came along and told the Paddies that going out on the beer on a Thursday perhaps wasn’t the best preparation for a game on a Saturday. But here’s the thing. You don’t have to go back 30 or even 20 years to see an anachronistic version of the game which bears little resemblance to that which is played today. You don’t have to go back even 10. Have a look at the highlights reel of Toulouse vs. Leinster, the high-watermark of the Cheiks & Knoxy version of Leinster. Defensive lines are broken at will, dog-legs appear everywhere, the contest flows from one end of the pitch to the other and back ; several sensational tries are scored as backlines create mismatches and speedsters find themselves up against second rows with regularity. And this is Toulouse – the best team of that era! These days, the only time the action could be described as end-to-end is during one of the frequent kick-tennis battles that punctuate most games.

The game has changed irreparably. Players are huge, from 1 to 15. Injuries are more numerous and serious and the nature of how the game is played has totally changed. Off-the-cuff rugby is a thing of the past. Who even talks about ‘broken field running’ anymore? It never happens. When the full-back catches the ball these days the chase is so organised the field is scarcely broken. It’s become a game of systems. The best teams and coaches are those who devise systems to expose the weaknesses in the opposition’s systems. The all-conquering All Blacks team rarely plays off the cuff; they adhere to their principles of clearing the ruck, kicking for territory in their own half, and lethal accuracy in execution of passing and offloading. Make no mistake, they are great to watch and a superb team, but don’t mistake what they do for ‘flair’. The closest we have seen to real flair this year was Clermont’s win at home to Munster, where they showed an impressive willingness to put the ball into the hands of their unstructured game-breakers Napolioni Nalaga and Wesley Fofana.  Oddly, some of the better rugby on display this season has come from the Not-so-Boshiership, where a handful of teams, chiefly Bath, have been commited to trying to play the game in a watchable fashion. Until Sam Burgess was shoe-horned into the team anyway.

The combination of highly organised defensive systems and huge players mean that space is at a premium. Breaking the defensive line is difficult, so clean breaks are rare.  Even if a player can break the first tackle, he is usually swept up by the second layer of defence. As a result the battle for metres is fought out either with the boot or on the gainline, with leg-driving forwards deployed to win yards after contact.

The 2003-2007 era may well be viewed as something of a sweet spot in the game. By 2003, professionalism had bedded in to ensure the players were fitter and stronger, and some sort of cohesion and structure had been imposed on defences, but sides with a creative streak could impose themselves on more physical opponents. Cheika’s Leinster, for example. They had a mediocre pack, but could somehow get their backs enough ball to thrive and while they didn’t win silverware, they were plenty competitive. It wouldn’t be possible today; the glitzy three-quarterline would simply be squeezed out. Ulster’s team this season have a similar make-up. They might have coped in 2006, but not today, where it’s nigh on impossible for a pack lacking the necessary oomph to impose itself on an opposing group of monsters. Having superior skill in the back division counts for little these days if you don’t have the power up front.

The 2007 World Cup and 2009 Lions tour were game-changing events. Argentina’s monstrous pack and kick-chase tactics redefined the approach to competing for territory, while the 2009 Lions series was unmatched in its ferocity by anything in the game up until that point. It also marked a turning point in the sheer number of injuries a panel must learn to deal with. Since then, player sizes, emphasis on physicality and gym work and the number and scale of injuries have only increased further.  When Jack Conan was awarded man of the match last week, his coach Leo Cullen appraised him as a fine player, noting in particular the numbers he was posting in the gym.

You can’t stop progress and it’s pointless to wax nostalgic for times past, but it would be remiss to fail to acknowledge that something has been lost in the process. The spectacle of rugby has been diminished. With fewer Christophe Dominicis and Shane Williamses, and more Yoann Hugets and Alex Cuthberts, rugby has lost a little of its watchability. It’s still a great game, no question, but the ratio of good, watchable matches to rubbish is not as high as it was.

We talked about Ireland and New Zealand as systems based teams, but at least they’re well coached and play like they know what they’re doing. What about the poorly coached sides? The rugby they produce is simply awful. Munster’s season is kept afloat by two pick-and-jam wins over their neighbours. Their focus in attack is so narrow it barely extends beyond the ruck. Their only player with a maverick instinct, JJ Hanrahan, has been marginalised, with more mundane, steady-hand-on-the-tiller types preferred in his place. They play a ‘rugby of fear’, encouraged to take the lowest risk option every time. Anything remotely unpredictable is treated with suspicion. It’s this sort of mentality that sees JJ Hanrahan leaving Munster. It’s a remarkable, ridiculous state of affairs. Munster have been crying out for a midfield player who can pass the ball to their fastmen like Simon Zebo and Keith Earls for god knows how long, and when they finally get one, they leave him out of the team, instead picking a big lad who can run straight, so he packs his bags for Northampton. It’s like waiting in the rain for a bus for 40 minutes and when it finally arrives deciding you’re going to walk instead.

Up the M7,  Leinster are teeth-grindingly poor to watch. Any feedback from within the camp is all about how much the players like Matt O’Connor and how they feel they owe him a performance. He has empowered the players an given them freedom to play within their own structures, apparently.  Jamie Heaslip even said that the players really enjoy having so much freedom to think, after the “robotic” Joe Schmidt years. That’s fine, but Robotic Rugby was pretty successful, and pretty good to watch – and probably pretty satisfying as a player. It immediately set off an alarm in our mind, and put us in mind of a polar opposite comment from Paul O’Connell – after his first experience of Schmidt, he spoke of how pissed off he was at the coach continually interrupting sessions to point out pedantic and minor errors in things like O’Connell’s ruck positioning and clearing out.  Schmidt appears more demanding and authoritative than O’Connor.  O’Connor may be popular in the dressing room, but Schmidt gets results.  These days, there’s little room for improvisation and empowering.

If you look at the successful coaches in world rugby post the 2009 Lions series, you have names like Warren Gatland, Graham Henry, Steve Hansen, Heineke Meyer, Joe Schmidt, Bernard Laporte – all ruthless pragmatists for whom the system is everything, and the players’ job is to fit into the system and execute accordingly. Each of these coaches are inextricably linked to on-field generals who act as their coach’s de facto rep on-field – respectively Sam Warburton, Ruchie and Kieran Read, Victor, Jonny Sexton and Jonny Wilkinson. Everything is directed to a minute degree – and incredibly successful.

Compare these men to those currently coaching the provinces – Pat Lam spoke on OTB about his vision for Connacht this week, and it was all about systems, outcomes, processes and players executing within those confines. Witness how his centres and short passing game ruthlessly exposed Munster’s defensive weakness in that area last week.  Matt O’Connor, meanwhile, presides over a Leinster team who are keeping above water merely on the individual quality in the squad – the players wax effusive about how much they like him, but is that really the point? It’s not working. Neil Doak, up in Ulster, is too new is his role to reach a definitive judgement, but Ulster look less effective every match he is in charge – individual errors multiply and there is no coherent sense that the players know what they are doing. Munster, to Axel Foley’s credit, at least seem to know what they are doing. It might be pretty ineffective – leaving aside the Leinster games, Munster have had a poor year on the pitch – and unambitious enought to prompt their most talented young back to jump ship, but at least it’s something. But only Lam looks like the kind of new-era coach who might go on to bigger and better things.

One final, strange thought.  Systems?  Robotic rugby?  Processes?  Didn’t Ireland once have a coach who was hounded out of the job for imposing too much of a stranglehold on the players?  Come back Eddie, all is forgiven.  Maybe he didn’t so much become outdated as simply arrive before his time.

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40 Comments

  1. Yossarian

     /  January 8, 2015

    Guy Noves does not coach any tactics in Toulouse, he has the players playing off the cuff rugby by design. No surprise Toulouse have been in decline as the system has become king.
    Systems are fine, but the players still need to be empowered to play what they see. The “system” is generally designed to create space or an overlap or some sort of try scoring/line breaking opportunity and it all about balance between the two.
    The Bosheiership has actually a couple of sides playing some good rugby. Northampton play with a mix of power and offloading that might be the way forward. Likewise Quins mask their up front power failings by offloading constantly.(not as successful this year but actually watchable stuff) Who new that’s where entertaining rugby was going to come from!!!!

  2. SeanB

     /  January 8, 2015

    Great post! I particuarly liked the O’Connell / Heaslip quotes…

    Where is a technical, systems-orientated coach that could take over at Leinster next year?

  3. Agree with a lot of that. With the defences getting really structured and players becoming physically more impressive, it’s easy to take a dumber, less skilled player and train them to be quick off the mark and get their reactions sharper. With these guys able to hunt down space and get over a ball quickly, any flair player that’s going on instinct (the likes of earls or madigan for example) might do something unpredictable and the split second disconnect between them and their supporting players not knowing that they’re going to break might be all a defensive line needs to get over the ball and hold it long enough for a turnover. Exciting for the spectators to watch but in the grand outcome of the match it might lead to turnovers or penalties and ultimately harm the attacking team.

    Schmidt’s spoken in places about trying to limit mistakes and thus limit opportunity chances. This means accurate passing, keeping some support players with you and rather than go for a 50 / 50 situation, slow yourself up til you have support, take the contact and recycle the ball – don’t hand it over cheaply to the opposition. When he was at leinster, Schmidt had the time to work on skills with his players as he saw them day in, day out for 3 years. With the irish players, he’s got a fraction of the time so he’s going to try and limit things to even simpler tactics – it means he’s got less drills to run to perfect the relevant skills for his game plan which again is to limit opposition chances. The all blacks do something pretty similar but the difference is their base skill level is higher – all of the forwards can take a ball on the run, pass on the run and throw an offload successfully. I heard it mentioned in some game’s commentary that the All blacks don’t even bother box kicking at this point as that becomes a 50 / 50 again – they’d rather pass back to the outhalf and get him to pick a more effective kick in terms of putting the team in a better position.

    It’s becoming a bit of a “there’s no I in team” situation as regards flair players – it’s fine if you’ve got a tonne of combinations on the same wavelength that can somewhat negate the communications breakdown of a player going on a break but with the lessened time and space available in the higher levels of the game, are coaches as you say looking to temper this in favour of controllable, percentage-based if / then / else systems of play?

    • D6W

       /  January 8, 2015

      I have heard tell that in NZ, the NZRU consciously get all the Super Rugby teams to practice the same drills and and skills so that when they come into the AB setup, they can slot in easier. Don’t know if that is true or not…

      As for schmidt, it is disappointing that he has not brought his leinster gameplan to Ireland, but I guess you can see the logic.

      • Yeah, I was really disappointed when we won the Six Nations and beat South Africa and Australia! From what Schmidt has said in interviews, I really get the feeling time and ability to practice stuff is the biggest obstacle to that. With Leionster, he could practice passing drills all day on the training paddock, but in international rugby the windows for training ar that bit shorter. This is why I think they are executing a pretty simple game plan.

        You’re right about the NZers, I think it was Muddy Wulliams who brought this to light over here. There is a greater deal of collaboration over there between the franchises and the union and a willingness to share ideas. Not sure how well it would extend to over here, where the provinces tend to havew to cut their cloth to the talent available.

        • D6W

           /  January 8, 2015

          I’m not a Leinstertainment fan, I swear. I would not give back Ireland’s season for love or money, In Joe I trust:)

  4. Simon Farrell (@SFarrell_5)

     /  January 8, 2015

    Speaking of Munster’s, narrow-width attacking patterns – has anyone else noticed Leinster’s propensity to ignore the blindside entirely this year, no matter how exposed it may be? I sit in the North Stand and have noticed a growing number of occasions where, from a ruck/scrum in the middle of the park, Leinster will shift the entire attacking line to one side of the posts or the other, deliberately denying themselves half of the width of the pitch!

    I’m sure someone is making the argument that they can ‘overload’ that side of the pitch as the defenders can’t completely neglect the other side but Leinster passing game is in the gutter, and the most notable passing-through-hands attack this season lead to Tikoirotuma’s intercept try!
    Oh for the days when Leinster players actively sought out space!

  5. crowlem1

     /  January 8, 2015

    Really interesting article, and I agree with the majority of the points made. One counter argument, however, would be the success of Glasgow under Gregor Townsend – a remarkable turnaround in fortunes off the back of playing a high-risk, off-loading, “off the cuff” style

    • I’d say townsend’s style isn’t off the cuff at all. Similar to schmidt’s style of having the ball carrier and ideally a player left and right and on in behind in a diamond shape, Townsend always has a few trail runners that are expecting the ball. They’re also very large men compared to a lot of other sides so defenders will have to either try and wrap them up and fail or go for the legs, take them down and leave their arms open to offload. I’d say townsend drills them in little pop passes on the shoulder as a way to break the line. Paddy Jackson is great at this too – in one of the recent games where Gilroy sliced through, Jackson got completely wiped out in a tackle and you couldn’t see him get the ball away at all – it was timed to the point where no defender could legally tackle Gilroy until he was already passed them. Hurley’s done this on occassion for munster and there’s a few in the other provinces similar. I’d say it’s the success rate not being high enough for schmidt’s liking just yet.

      In New Zealand they have a set method of scrummaging for all of their super 15 clubs so that when they call players up to the all blacks squad they can slot in and out with minimal disruption as they know their role. In schmidt’s leinster you could swap players in and out fairly easily and keep continuity of play too – since there was a pattern or template in place, every player knew exactly what to expect and there was no breakdown in speed of thought. I’d hope that nucifora would start to do similar with both feek and schmidt once a month with each province and try to upskill the players. Long term I’d hope he’d start to bring in the same thing in underage structures and ideally we’d have players that can pass, catch and tackle regardless of what position they end up in.

  6. MoC appears to be practicing a game plan for Championship Cup and the top four club Pro 12 line speeds on lesser opposition, which makes the team look less effective. Keiran Marmion recently said that Connacht usually have more than one game plan and their adaptability is a key driver. At the Leinster v Ulster match, Rory Best remarked on how they got the opportunity to throw the ball around. The difference between Lam and Doak is experience. Ulster threw the ball around and lost against a fast line speed defense, who for some reason were uncharacteristically lying deep. Pat Lam runs varied game plans because he knows that the top half or four teams in the Pro 12 generally have fast line speeds, which limits running rugby. Connacht used the most well executed chip n chase outside of Superleague to score against Munster. Matt Healys recent kick, chase and try proves that Lam is getting the players to buy into this system. The bottom half of the Pro 12 allows for more flexibility in creative throwing the ball around. Doak is learning on the job and for a coach that was running things behind the scenes for Ulster in previous seasons, would have expected more in the way of buy in from the players and game plans that appear effective.

    • The fact that Doak is effectively a placeholder for Kissy probably doesn’t help. But Anscombe was much more systematic than McLaughlin – some Ulster fans (not this one) pine after McLaughlin, but you never knew how Ulster would play under him – it was often a coin toss, and they were pretty flaky. Under Anscombe, the Ulster pack were one of the best in Europe, and Ulster were extremely hard to beat. The attack systems in opposition 22 were rubbish admittedly, but they were a very different side than under McLaughlin.

      Doak having worked under both doesn’t necessarily mean he buys into either philosophy I would contend.

      • Even if Kiss can get the extra 1% out of Ulster that Doak doesnt seem to be able to there is still a lack of depth to be solved. Simply whining publicly for an import policy akin to Connacht may not solve it. No amount of imports has achieved that in a decade at Ulster. As DOR hope Kiss has a few innovations up his sleeve to bring in more academy players. At present, reported development consists of blanket rugby coaching sessions, with no obvious incentives.

  7. Really thought provoking post, but I’m afraid I don’t buy this… systems in a team game? Who’da thunk it?

    All team games become more systemised as the become more mature. Look at one of those Football Gold programs on Sky, match highlights from 20, 15, sometimes less than 10 years ago, and note how disjointed the teams are, how only a handful of players move at any one time.

    I think the major factor is conditioning: modern systems (layered defences of soccer, perma-passing tiki-taka, the swarming 12-men-behind-the-ball Gaelic football formations) are only possible because of the incredible aerobic conditioning of the players.

    This is where union is probably saved from itself. The specialisation of forwards for differing set pieces puts a limit on how aerobic (and how systemised) a team can be in general play without exposing themselves at the set piece. The pro game is now a clash of cultures as much as systems: Ireland, New Zealand and Australia go for mobility, pace and football, while South Africa and their imitators (England, Argentina, France, Wales) favour size and power.

    Some of the very best ***and creative*** teams have been heavily systemised without shutting down X-factor players. Look at Guardiola’s Barca and Schmidt-era-Leinster. With reference to Pat Lam, a large part of Connacht’s system this year is as simple to keep bloody playing at all times in all conditions in an effort to wear down/out the opposition (Munster’s tackle count against them was 218 made, 11 missed).

    Let me finish with two quotes:

    First, that awful Sunscreen thing from Baz Luhrman describes nostalgia as: “a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.” (Well, advice as a form of nostalgia, but the point stands).

    Second, Arrigo Sacchi, that most sytemised of football managers, said that the whole point of systemising his great AC Milan team was so that: “The playmaker? The playmaker is the man with the ball.”

    • Two observations – Arrigo Sacchi is a genius, and interesting point on the tackles – remember that when France beat BNZ in the 2007 RWC? France made some (at the time) ridiculous number of tackles, which I bet is perfectly normal now – don’t have the number to hand unfort

    • Salmson, I’m not sure which bit you say you ‘don’t buy’ because we appear to be singing from the same hymn sheet. Fully agree that the greater maturity of the sport has seen it become more systemised and, as you say, a lot of that is down to conditioning, and a lot of that is down to sports science and increasde ability to monitor the players’ conditioning. Another factor, or maybe catalyst, was the importing of rugby league defensive systems which were more structured and less drift-across-then-tackle in style.

      As we say, this is all inevitable, but would you not agree that the game as a spectacle is a little bit diminished? I think there are far fewer line breaks in the modern game to the number we would have seen six or seven years ago.

      Anyway, my favourite nostalgia-baiting reference is LCD Soundsystem’s description of ‘art-school Brooklynites in little jackets and borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered ’80s’.

      • Jaybee985

         /  January 8, 2015

        Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be but I remain hopeful that we can replace GT’s golden generation with better looking people who have better ideas and more talent and who are actually really really nice . . .

        • But I was there. When Sean O’Brien won man of the match against the Dragons. I said ‘he’ll go on to play for Ireland’. Everyone thought I was crazy. But oh no.

          • Leinsterlion

             /  January 8, 2015

            Sean O’Brien, nah he’ll never make it, if we teach him to throw he might have future at hooker though.

          • LL – the SOB at hooker thing? Hook or Ward?

      • You see that’s the bit I don’t buy – that the game as a spectacle is diminished.

        Does fewer line breaks make for a worse game? You can make an argument sure, but I would argue the reduction in TBPs and increase in LBPs (TBPs running at 30/40 in a 132 game Pro12 season for the last 4 seasons, as opposed to 70!!!! ten years ago, while LBPs have soared from 40-50 to 60-70) is a sign of more competitive games, and that’s only achievable if you stop leaking cheap tries (and breaks).

        I keep coming back to nostalgia: we forget the crap bits and remember the highlights. I think (I’d like to say objectively, but we’ll come to that in a minute) the game was in a worse state when they were fluthering round with ELVs and no mauls.

        However I’m willing to countenance the strong possibility that being a Connacht supporter may mean my glasses have a rosier tinge that those worn by whichever Whiff – Ulster or Leinster – penned this post.
        (Subjectivity, eh? Objectively there’s not a whisker between the 3 provinces this year but look at the difference in attitude/mood of their respective supporters.)

        Maybe we’re both wrong and there’s a simpler explanation: If there seems to be more dross, could it be because there’s more rugby televised?

        • ‘Maybe we’re both wrong and there’s a simpler explanation: If there seems to be more dross, could it be because there’s more rugby televised?’ This could actually be it.

  8. col

     /  January 8, 2015

    Great piece, really felt the frustration and couldn’t agree more. I genuinely worry the game has peaked. At the very top level it is still incredible to watch though. SA at home to BNZ in the final rugby championship game has been sensational the last 2 years.
    The EoS question is a real noodle scratcher.

    • Didn’t eos have an exact plan for a set piece attack and a few multi phase ones with nothing in there adaptation wise if it broke down? Schmidt has a few planned moves for specific opposition as told by the murray kick for tommy bowe’s try but the rest of the phase play seems to be roles based on what situation the ball carrier is in – e.g. if he’s running your primary job is to run in support and take a pass. If he’s been tackled and you’re the closest man then your job is to clear out, if he takes contact then your job is to link on to him and drive forward. It allows for breakdowns in play happening and the players to quickly reset and know what they should be doing.

    • I guess we’ll have to wait and see if he’s learned some new tricks (and maybe some humility). His Biarritz are hot on the heels of Simon Mannix and James Coughlan’s Pau.

  9. D6W

     /  January 8, 2015

    Interesting column. While the phyical parameters of the game have remained the same IE pitch and ball size, over last 40 years or so, the players are getting bigger, faster and more organised, hence less space to be exploited, and subsequently less tries, excitement etc. And this trend can only continue…

    Maybe, maybe it is time for World Rugby to cross the rubicon and look at creating space on the pitch by reducing player numbers. 7s have al the attacking flair anyone could want, but less of the traditional Union skills. But what about having 13 players with no flankers, or 14 with 1 less back (keeping same rules of course, don’t want it to be anything like league)? Some advantages I could see would be

    – Mainly, more space on pitch, with less people to cover across
    – Squad size probably would not change much, as the injury toll would not change, so few job losses
    – Pressure on scrum, particularly front row, would reduce, making the most dangerous area of game safer

    Anyway, hardly original, but the more the game goes in direction you describe, the less interesting it becomes for the spectator, especially casual ones who have choice to watch other sports.

    • Joe

       /  January 8, 2015

      Or make the pitch bigger…

      • D6W

         /  January 8, 2015

        Yes, that would probably have same effect, but imagine what that would mean for every ground around the world.

    • The changes you propose are interestingly what has driven the evolution of Rugby League.

      • D6W

         /  January 8, 2015

        Very true. But still a long way from the six tackle rule which to me is defining difference. 7s is still patently union, so game not defined by 15 men on pitch.

        • The six tackle rule evolved to stop teams from up the jumper rugby and to eliminate teams from extended periods of possession in the game.

          • In an attempt to make it more interesting

          • D6W

             /  January 8, 2015

            And for me that is what changed it from one game into another. I think it is possible to change numbers on pitch without adopting those league rules.

            Anyway, it is such a radical change can’t see it happening anytime soon, if at all.

        • Agreed, but certainly in Ulster they should develop rugby around 7s at community schools level to be more inclusive of kids with skills from soccer and GAA. The smaller numbers required would allow more teams from small schools.

    • Lop12

       /  January 9, 2015

      Smaller sqaud sizes, only 20 can be listed for any game. Means everyone needs to be that bit more aerobically fit and that little bit less bulky as they will need to play for a bit longer. May at least reduce the collision based approach.

      Already the case at club level in Ireland; albeit you are allowed rolling subs up to a maximum of ten (i think?)

      • Lop12

         /  January 9, 2015

        this may also level the playing field somewhat and reduce the benefit of some clubs hoarding dozens of top players.

  10. Laughing Crow

     /  January 8, 2015

    “This new midfield ‘crash-ball’ is a disaster – hunks of manhood with madness in their eyes, battering-ram bulldozers happy to be picked off on the gainline by just-as-large hunks from the opposing side. For what? Just to do it all over again. We are breeding robots. Is it the drudge and monotony of training sessions where everything’s done by numbers? Fly-halves even call moves before the scrummage forms – ‘miss one’, ‘dummy scissors, ‘high up-and-under’ and so on, regardless of the quality of the emerging ball. Coaches treat players like puppets on a string. Back play at speed is becoming a pathetic apology, an insult to those who have graced it for a century. Flat-footed forwards now stand at centre.” – lions coach Carwyn James, 1983

    Taken from this excellent piece on the same issue:

    http://www.theguardian.com/sport/2014/dec/18/the-breakdown-nick-easter-changing-physique

  11. osheaf01

     /  January 9, 2015

    “One final, strange thought. Systems? Robotic rugby? Processes? Didn’t Ireland once have a coach who was hounded out of the job for imposing too much of a stranglehold on the players? Come back Eddie, all is forgiven.”
    Couldn’t agree more, though I think the Catastrophe that was World Cup 2007 was what really finished him – when coaches are control freaks, that’s OK as long as they keep winning. Once they have one bad season, the enemies they’ve made come out of the woodwork. Rafa Benitez found that out in summer 2010, and Joe Schmidt needs to keep winning to avoid finding out who his friends really are. Even Alex Ferguson came under a bit of pressure after a couple of lean seasons in the mid-noughties…
    But, yes, as a Munsterman, if Fast Eddie got to coach Munster in the future, that might not be the disaster it is imagined it would be. But it won’t happen.

    • Lop12

       /  January 9, 2015

      Id give him the backs in a heartbeat!

    • D6W

       /  January 11, 2015

      While EOS may have been a visionary before his time with his systematic approach, I don’t remember that being the reason he was hounded out of the job. It was the 2007 WC, as you say, and probably his “untouchables” approach to selection that did for him.

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