Where next for Ireland?

There’s nothing quite like the hand-wringing after a World Cup exit.  England are not just reviewing whether or not to appoint a new coach but the very process by which they appoint coaches.  It almost begs the question, who will review the reviewers?  Heaven knows what the fallout in France is like, because they have serious problems.  The decline of one of the great and most fun rugby nations has been sad indeed.

And so to Ireland, who will have their own self-lacerating episode to get under way, following yet another pre-semi-final exit from the Grand Shindig.  No doubt, Schmidt’s eye for detail on the training paddock and in team meetings will extend to the review of his own performance.  Schmidt admits to pragmatism and self-doubt, so he will question his every decision along the way and see if he could have done things differently.

The way the tournament has panned out with all four Rugby Championship teams making the semi-finals has delivered a perfectly formed narrative with a great big bow on it.  It leads to an easy and obvious analysis that the game is played at a different pace in the south and with a higher level of skill that the European teams simply cannot match.

On the evidence so far, this is more or less true, but it has led to the knock-on argument that Schmidt should radically overhaul Ireland’s playing style in order to compete with the likes of Argentina, Australia and New Zealand.  It’s an argument not without merit but it’s worth looking at in greater depth.

First of all, what is Ireland’s playing style?  More often than not it’s a relatively mechanical one in which aerial domination is king.  Both half-backs tend to kick high into the air and the likes of Tommy Bowe and Rob Kearney’s principle roles are to reclaim these kicks.  Ireland confine most of their ball-in-hand play to rehearsed set pieces, from which they tend to get substantial reward.  Mauling, choke tackling and accurate breakdown work are also prominent.  However, they have shown, against Scotland in the Six Nations inparticular, an ability to keep ball in hand.  Against France, just two weeks ago, Ireland totally dominated possession and looked to put width on their game.  Indeed, even against Argentina, it was defence and not a lack of attacking nous that cost us.  Ireland scored two fine tries and 20 points in that match; had they defended better, that may have been enough to win.

It’s been argued in the last week that this is a gameplan devised to beat the likes of England, Wales and France but that it’s too limited to take on the better nations.  We’re not so sure.  And even so, most of the time, England, Wales and France are the opposition we face when we have to win – every spring in the Six Nations.  And nobody was complaining too much when we won the last two series.

We’re in the middle of the World Cup now, and as Demented Mole once put it, Ireland’s fans are like chefs, and work with seasonal produce.  We’re bang in the middle of The Grand Shindig right now, and the Six Nations seems a piddling consolation prize by comparison.  But memories are short, and come the spring we’ll remember what a big deal it is.  Ireland have won few enough Six Nations down the years, so we can’t really turn our noses up at them.

Besides, sticking all your chips on a tournament that comes around once every four years is a barmy strategy.  Stuart Lancaster has been pilloried for going on about 2019, so let’s not ourselves fall into the same trap.  It’s worth remembering that Ireland are out of the tournament because they lost precisely one rugby match.  Chances are we’ll have another quarter-final in four years time, but the idea of building a team with that one-off game in mind seems farcical.  There are so many imponderables and most of the things that will drive the result; form, injuries, the weather, team morale, are influenced by the hours, days and weeks leading up to it.  South Africa are in the semi-finals but they have arrived at their current selection and playing mid-tournament after a crisis-inducing loss to Japan in their first game.  So much for forward planning.

It also has to be remembered that Ireland play most of their competitive games in November and February, when conditions often dictate a duller gameplan.  The World Cup has been played largely on dry tracks, which has been a help to those more willing to run the ball, but in spring the matches are often played out on roly-poly pitches and in wind and rain. The first semi-final showed that sometimes the best teams need to play the conditions too. Ireland’s aerial bombardment was good enough to beat Australia last November.  Ok, it wasn’t in a World Cup, but anyone who thinks Australia weren’t there to win needs to watch the tape again; it was a game of thrilling intensity.

Another argument seems to be that “at Leinster Schmidt had them playing just like Argentina did, why has he gone away from that?”  A look at what’s going on in the provinces might be valuable at this point, just as it is to recall that at Leinster Schmidt had a midfield of Sexton, Darcy and O’Driscoll to work with, as well as a world-class offloader in the second row in Nathan Hines.  But last year he’d have looked at Munster and Leinster playing pig-ugly one-out rugby without pause for breath.  If the players are not able to pass or offload at provincial level, then what are the chances of getting them to do it at test level, where the space and time afforded are even less, and the pressure to execute even higher?  It can’t just be turned on like a tap, and Gordon D’arcy’s articles, where he has explained that Irish players are coached from an early age to support the carrier by hitting the ruck rather than looking for the offload, have been some of the most instructive reading of the last month.

Ireland do need to develop their attacking game, no question.  Perhaps we do not have ballers in the class of Fernandez Lobbe, Matt Giteau, Michael Hooper or Nicolas Sanchez, but last we checked Jonny Sexton, Peter O’Mahony, Iain Henderson and Jared Payne, among others, were all comfortable playing with the football. The skills are there, and we should look to trust them a little more.  But there’s no need to throw – or should that be Garryowen? – the baby out with the bathwater.

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117 Comments

  1. ORiordan

     /  October 27, 2015

    Ireland’s game plan under Schmidt has worked pretty well in the past but that is no guarantee it will continue to be as effective in the future. If Ireland don’t evolve then other teams will find it increasingly easier to counter and a so-called low risk approach will actually end up being high risk in terms of being able to win.

    So in my mind there is no question that Ireland must evolve and change, it really comes down to the extent and the speed.

  2. cp

     /  October 27, 2015

    Good article lads, but I think we need to critique the idea that you can’t play catch-pass in Europe in February-March because of the pitches.

    With Wales and Scotland having belatedly come to the hybrid turf party, the six nations is now played on world class surfaces. And as we saw Saturday, there’s really no excuse for professionals to be dropping a modern Rugby ball just because it’s in the rain.

    Granted the surfaces below that level aren’t always up to scratch, (ironically Scotstoun being one of the worst, and look at the way Glasgow play) but they’re getting better all the time. We’re getting to the stage where this is more convenient excuse than fact.

  3. The stats tell a simple story. The teams that have scored the most tries in the RWC are the ones that advanced the furthest. At no stage in the RWC did Ireland display the ambition or ability to run with the ball that Argentina for example did. In the match against England, Australia from the opposition kick-off, or maybe it was immediately thereafter off their own line-out, went to run the ball back practically from their own try line – and I’m not talking exit strategy here. I remember well October 4, 2014, when I watched SA beat NZ in an absolutely thrilling match and a couple of hours later Munster overcome Leinster – both teams littered with Irish internationals – in an entirely forgettable Pro 12 slugfest. The gaping disparity in the skill levels had me depressed for a week. In the Bok-AB-match the number of knock-ons could be counted in one hand, whereas the contest in Lansdowne Road seemed to consist of them. It’s not rocket science: the more phases you can put the ball through without knocking on, dropping the damn thing or losing possession, the greater your chances of scoring points and winning the match. There’s a time and a place for accurate kicking out of hand, no question. Dan Carter showed how it was done last weekend, whereas Andre Pollard and Willie le Roux did not. Nevertheless ball-in-hand rugby is the way to go, IMO, if one wants to seriously compete with big boys. Hopefully we’ll see Schmidt and Nucifora putting measures in place to up the emphasis on ball handling at the provinces.

  4. Ireland need to vary their game plan. Gatland pointed out that they played very narrow in the tourney and the Argentinians exploited it. Ireland’s game plan is now so structured it makes very easy reviewing for analysis. The Argentina game also proved that the strength and depth is not there yet, in particular in terms of Leadership. The investments just have not been made in Youth rugby to get the Senior players coming through, with the exception of Leinster. If the IRFU ever expect Youth rugby to make a significant contribution to the provinces they will have to make the incentives significant enough to improve the youth rugby competitions to a similar standard as the schools competitions. Incentives such as tours, educational support, social media campaigns and prize competitions all require investment.

    • Christiaan Theron what more do you want to be invested in youths rugby? Tours wont make better players. The provincial branches are doing more than ever for promoting youths rugby – http://www.munsterrugby.ie/domestic/news/21313.php#.Vi-BEE1i_cs
      Prize competitions like what exactly? Clubs need to be doing more to promote youths rugby. The youths rugby competitions will not reach same standards as the schools competitions at the very top level in Leinster or Ulster for many reasons. They will in Munster and Connacht. They already do in some ways reach what is in the schools in some provinces.
      Social media wise just look at https://www.facebook.com/EastMunsterYouthsRugby for one of the better facebook pages covering youths rugby in the country.

      • Note to all – JJ and adonkeysview are the same person. Let’s try and keep usernames consistent

      • The Ulster branch are running youth rugby on a shoe string without any real strategy. Would like to see the Ulster branch fund some real research into youth rugby to establish a way forward. Most of what has been done has been anecdotal. Where is the academic researched evidence?
        Funded tours or jollys as they are called in corporations are well known incentives. Incentives are a method of attracting footballers who have a choice of athletic opportunities they can go.
        Prize competitions are again a method of attracting public interest and can be used specifically. This means the Ulster branch could target PE teachers in non traditional rugby schools to encourage them to play or refer kids to the local youth team. They could also target volunteers in youth rugby to encourage more people to help and support the teams.
        Would agree that Youths rugby will not reach the same standards at Ulster for main three reasons.
        1.The lack of evidenced research
        2. Youth rugby is presently seen as a feeder to schools rugby.
        3. Youth rugby is historically underfunded.
        Youth culture is driven by social media. There are umpteen videos of the next greatest player and some who don’t make it out there on social media. Where are the prize competitions for youth rugby highlight of the year to publicise and encourage new players into youth rugby?
        All of this before we go into youth rugby festivals equivalent to the Portugal youth rugby festival or why the Ulster branch should establish a sevens competitions for community schools because historically the schools do not have the population to play 15 aside. Why an Olympic sevens youth rugby experience would be more of an incentive to kids from non traditional rugby background than the JWC.

        • Fund research? There is no demand for it. Youth rugby isn’t seen as a feeder to schools rugby. Trust me as a coach and referee of youths rugby in 2 provinces it isnt. The Ulster Branch has limited funds. Funding loads of trips for kids isn’t the right way to get kids into the sport and wont work long term unless you can maintain all these trips every year and just having foreign trips to new and exotic locations doesn’t mean players stay in the sport long term. What happens when the trips stop?
          Yes the provincial branches could be doing more to publicise competitions. Munster are doing a good job – why don’t you contact the provincial branches and promote the competitions/games yourself if you want more promotion of these games.
          http://www.munsterrugby.ie/domestic/news/19740.php#.Vi-mPk1i_cs

          http://www.munsterrugby.ie/domestic/news/12777.php#.Vi-mP01i_cs

          http://www.munsterrugby.ie/news/12736.php#.Vi-mQ01i_cs

          http://www.munsterrugby.ie/domestic/news/21313.php#.Vi-mRU1i_cs

          If you want a sevens competition for community schools. Talk to your local school and development officer and local club and initiate the competition yourself and then look for branch help? Just expecting the branch to do everything and just criticising them doesn’t aid progress

          • Research provides facts. In the absence of evidence, anecdotes and supposition fill the void and these are the real reasons behind youth rugby not fulfilling it’s promise.
            The most prominent recent graduate from youth rugby in Ulster, Chris Farrell went straight to schools rugby.
            According to Stephen Ferris the Ulster branch have a “war chest” of funds. However a sustainable incentive would be to fund the youth rugby underage representative teams to tour and that would interest players with other opportunities an incentive to work towards those teams. The Ulster branch are not doing a much better job than I was playing youth rugby 25 years ago. Quite frankly if there are development officers at Ulster rugby then it is unclear exactly what they are doing because in appointing schools rugby old boys they should have capability of delivering most of this. Expecting volunteers to turn up and do it for them is at best unprofessional. The Ulster branch needs to show leadership and either appoint development officers who know how to improve youth rugby or provide genuine rewarding opportunities for volunteers with real incentives but to do that they would need to do some research first.

    • SportingBench

       /  October 27, 2015

      I wouldn’t take any value from Gatland’s comment about Ireland been narrow or predictable given his approach in Wales. It might be true but he was trying to disrupt Ireland and make them change tack like Oz to England in 1991. He sees nothing wrong in narrow predictable rugby.

    • Amiga500

       /  October 27, 2015

      Forget about massive investment, how about some common sense first?

      1. Schools are not allowed to bar kids from playing for their clubs. Any school caught doing this is eliminated from all branch schools competition for a minimum of 2 years.
      2. The professional provincial players are expected to do their share of coaching kids in clubs.
      3. Improved access for kids’ coaches to resources, advice and tuition from the full time provincial/academy coaches.
      4. The branch also need to get involved in raising the standard of coaching within schools that don’t have the funds to splash out on specialist coaches.
      5. Run majority of competitions during the summer months when its drier.

      Then, you could look at possibly building facilities around the counties for improved training and also maybe enabling indoor tag during winter.

      • With the schools cup being the priority. Would agree that all 2nd XV players should be allowed to play for their clubs. Local junior club hire an indoor facility in January and February for Mini rugby. So would agree that Mini rugby and youth sevens rugby competitions in the better weather seasons. Everything else in particular the indoor tag during winter would be revolutionary to the Ulster branch but appears very doable.

        • Amiga500

           /  October 28, 2015

          “With the schools cup being the priority.”

          Not even sure I agree 100% with this. The PE teacher has one goal – having you be most effectively when your 17 against other 17 year olds.

          Not when your 20+ playing against fellas varying in age from 20-35.

          So, if your a big fella at 17, the teacher will be piling the weights at you, so you can just lump through other 17 year olds. Such a tactic fails miserably when you then leave school and have to play against men that are equal or bigger than you and have a full skillset that wasn’t neglected in favour of bench presses!

          I need think on it a bit more. But I do think there is far too much emphasis on bulk rather than brains throughout irish rugby.

          • “The PE teacher has one goal – having you be most effectively when your 17 against other 17 year olds.”
            Not sure about this. Would have thought that the PE teachers would each have their own rugby philosophy?

            Anecdotal disclaimer. Youth rugby in Ulster has historically been made up of “big fellas” and lads who would struggle with the pace to get into a local soccer team at a decent level. Conversely Schools cup teams appear made up of smaller, fitter and technically more advanced players at the same age. Who athletically could turn their hand to most sports to a reasonable level.

            However if the research by the Ulster branch has been done. Then the knowledge of what styles of coaching and skills that are being coached at the schools cup teams and club youth rugby teams would be revealing. Not least of all because it would allow the planning of what skills are coached at what age.

  5. I don’t think there’s a huge amount that needs to be “fixed” (edit: despite how much I’ve written below!), but the main points are:

    1) Name a new captain. Heaslip would be fine but I fear he could be toxic to non-Leinster fans for any perceived lack of leadership in the 2013 6N and in the QF. Someone young & bolted on (POM, Henderson, Henshaw, Murray) would be a better option.
    2) Add more strings to the bow. Joe’s gotten a basic gameplan that we can fall back to, along with a couple of set plays. The problem is that the gameplan/set plays (and some of the players) are so mechanical that it’s getting to Warrenball levels, not so hard to stop anymore. Bring in a Zebo, Gilroy or Jones in the back three to add some creativity and start encouraging offloads on the front foot.
    3) Be more consistent in selection. Sexton realistically should never have made it onto the teamsheet for Argentina. The Healy gamble didn’t pay off. While there’s a place for World Class Players, if they’re carrying knocks they’re hardly going to be the Test Match Animals we need. The fact that PJ kept his bib on (and Ryan came on much to late to have any sort of impact) for the QF points to a lack of faith/preparation on Joe’s part, which is disappointing.
    4) Get another great Defence Coach: Granted, Kiss’ last game in charge didn’t exactly look pretty, but since he came in under Kidney Ireland have by and large looked absolutely miserly in terms of giving away points. Add in innovations like the choke tackle and he’s left Ireland with a good structure. Bring in someone as intelligent.
    5) Stop relying on Leinster so much. Yes, One-Eyed Ulster-isms abound. But this benefits Leinster in the long term as well. Having a team gutted for the good of the nation removes a lot of their competitiveness, which in turn potentially limits how much knockout rugby they get exposed to. This obviously depends a lot more on the other provinces than Joe, but having 5/6 of our matchday front rows come from Leinster isn’t sustainable.

    • Why exactly has Denis Buckley been overlooked?

    • I think some of the Argentinian selections were strange on their own (McGrath as bench, Jackson no longer Sexton injury backup, Bowe back) but were helped that way by injuries and earlier selections/performances (in Madigan’s case anyway). It was certainly a deviation from the pre-tournament plan.

      Having 5/6 front rows from Leinster has worked fine so far – we shouldn’t pick lesser players to get more provincial balance in. The argument really should be around how we distribute our limited playing resources effectively around 4 (3.5?) provinces.

      • Was Buckley a lesser player given Healys form?

        • Lop12

           /  October 27, 2015

          Agree with this. Buckley probably the form loosehead last season (albeit Healy missed a lot of it). An excellent player who will surely get a chance now to stake some kind of claim. It is one of the most competitive positions going though.

  6. Ireland have always been slow to promote new exciting talent. Old established players have been selected past well past their prime. e.g Phil Orr, John Hayes, Gordon Darcy,
    Mike Gibson.
    We cannot change the skills and playing style of our existing squad over the next 4 years but we can quickly dispense with any current player who is now aged 32 or older.

    Our present style is a mini me version of South Africa and we will never be as strong as
    them. It will take a decade plus to completely change to an a skilled passing side.
    It also takes drive from the IRFU and the acceptance of setbacks in learning a new
    approach.
    In the short term we will face 3 other desperate teams in the 6 Nations, all seeking
    redemption -. England, Wales and France.
    Wales raging against rotten luck, England and France against everything.

    In February,I hope that we see 2 or 3 new faces in the starting 15, McCloskey and Olding spring to mind, although with the latter fitness may be a problem,
    Also play wingers on the wing not in the centre and pick attacking wings not slow ones just for our easily read kick chase. Stick with Earls, Fitzgerald, Zebo and try and introduce
    Ringrose later.
    Switch Henshaw to full back, Rob Kearney to the bench,
    I hope that Tommy O’ Donnell will be fit and and can be given a run at 7.
    Finally if McCarthy, McFadden or Dave Kearney are anywhere near the squad it
    will add to the impression that blue is the colour.
    I am a Leinster fan and to balance it out I do not want to see Felix Jones or Darren Cave
    either.

    • Funny you should say that, ‘cos at the risk of heresy, I think Joe v Argentina made the same mistake as Deccie in 2012 at the horror show in Hamilton v NZ – in not playing Darren Cave in the centre instead of Paddy Wallace and Keith Earls respectively.

      • Very good point. Given Payne’s experience was absent. Cave had a lot to offer in terms of defence and experience at 13.

        • seiko

           /  October 27, 2015

          Cave showed nothing of these characteristics on the tour to Argentina where he had 2 starts in the centre (with a more or less first choice team with Sexton & POC starting), not that that means much but the outstanding back on that tour was Simon Zebo who was left sitting in the stands for this one.

          • Cave wasn’t the answer – he’s never cut it at this level, and was a surprise pick in the first place. The mistake was then compounded by drafting in part-time centers ahead of him.

      • jacothelad

         /  October 27, 2015

        Schmidt must suspect Cave of being the guy who burgled his house or gobbing in his beer. Cave is quite simply the best 13 on the island. Others may have odd bits of their game at 13 which are better than Cave but he is better at the whole thing. The number of tries he sets up for others with his line breaks and off loads and even the number he scores himself is way ahead of any other. Perhaps that’s the problem Joe has with Cave. He passes the feckin’ ball to team mates instead of kicking it up in the air for them to run towards. He is very strong in leading the line. His defence is rock solid. There are those who claim “He has had plenty of chances and hasn’t taken them,” which of course is not remotely true. Remember that 7 minutes against the ABs when Ireland were already 40 points down. Compare the amount of opportunities that the likes of Fitzgerald has had with very little to show for it but he still gets more chances. Cave has been mostly given a niggardly few minutes and has been mostly selected out of position at that. Here is an idea Joe. Play the feckin’ players in the position in which they are best.
        We’ve had a sort of 10 covering 9.
        An 11, Earls, at 13.
        An 11, Fitz,at 12 and 13
        A 15, Payne, at 13.
        A 15/13, Henshaw at 12.
        A real 13, Cave at 12.
        The only guys not to play 13 was the only real 13 in the whole squad and a 15 who plays 13 but now 12.. He is no BOD or Sella but he can actually play the position better than the rest.
        Ringrose needs to be given the shirt at Leinster. We can’t hold someone like him back with all the usual bollocks of ‘he needs to put on a few more kilos,’ or he needs to play on the wing to get the pace of the game,’ FFS. He, McCloskey, Olding, Luke Marshall, Chris Farrell etc are where the midfield future lies. I hope they don’t all get the Darren cave treatment from Schmidt if he persists with what I think is clearly a failed strategy..

    • I wouldn’t worry too much about Wales, they’ll still have Jamie Roberts patching the rest of their backs back together. France have brought in Guy Noves at probably the lowest point of his career, so I’d doubt that they’ll be much of a threat. England’ll probably show up alright, but at least we won’t have to throw a loosehead prop into the tight again.

      There should probably be some new faces in, but I wouldn’t just cut out all the fat circa England 2012 either, you still need some experience in the squad. Building more options is always helpful though. If I get to see an Ulster midfield of Stu and Stu I’ll be delighted.

      • Would prefer a midfield of Henshaw and Payne with McCloskey or Farrell introduced from the bench over this Six Nations. Above all would like to see players brought into the squad on form and not on “how we work”. At that stage it was clear the coaching team had lost their way.

        • flypanam

           /  October 27, 2015

          When Bundee Aki qualifies a combination of him and any of those you mention will be pretty special. Should help with the skills gap too.

    • scrumdog

       /  October 27, 2015

      We actually need a couple of openside flankers who can bring the whole bag of tricks to our game before we try to go with expansive rugby. None of our back row players are Sevens bar O’Donnell who is relatively inexperienced at the top level and we need more than one. I hope young lads O’Donoghue and Van de Flyer can keep getting game time with their provinces.

      • Lop12

         /  October 27, 2015

        O’Donoghue is a superb athlete and prospect, but not the 7 you are looking for IMVHO

      • Thomas Donohoe

         /  October 28, 2015

        Jake Heenan is the one to watch here. he is a special talent and will be Irish qualified in September ’16

        • Heenan will be doing well to be playing professionally in September ’16. He’s had 2 shoulder reconstructions (same shoulder) in his 2 years at Connacht.

  7. Mike

     /  October 27, 2015

    Rob Penny tried the New Zealand / Argentina style at Munster, but the players wouldn’t have it.

    If memory serves most of the commentators calling for an overhaul were giving out about it too and a return to ‘traditional Munster values’.

    • seiko

       /  October 27, 2015

      That is not correct. The Munster players rated Penney and they performed well for him (2 HCup semis). ROG commented that Penney was brilliant with building confidence in young players. Penney also was very openly critical of Schmidt’s handling of Simon Zebo.

      • curates_egg

         /  October 27, 2015

        Surely that is also a bit revisionist Seiko?

    • Amiga500

       /  October 27, 2015

      Your right in the clowns (looking at you Frankie and Quinny) called for the return to PASHUN and INTENSUTY rather than skill.

      But I think they players seemed to like it once they got the hang of it.

  8. Rocky

     /  October 27, 2015

    I think the loss to Argentina was multi-factorial, as usual.
    1. It’s no surprised that Ireland and France were both well beaten (hammered?), having knocked seven bells out of each other a week earlier and playing against well-rested opponents. Our team looked knackered from the first whistle
    2. No side can cope with losing five (and Bowe) top players and leaders before a match and this was a huge factor for us, including the problem that the bench was much weaker than it could have been.
    3. I believe our selections were wrong in a number of positions. Earls showed, yet again, that he is a terrific wing and a mediocre centre. What is the point in bringing a specialist centre and not playing him.
    Dave Kearney showed why he is very good at provincial level and not quite there at RWC level, I think. Also his big brother has loxt a lot of his potency as a kick returner.
    Henderson was wasted in the second row – he should have been at 6, where he could have countered their back row who made hay all match against smaller players. Ryan could have filled the lock slot.
    Healey wasn’t fit and McGrath should have started.
    4. We played a narrow game, both in defence and attack and gave up space far too easily. Our safety first approach simply didn’t work and we missed far too many first-up tackles.
    For the future, our personnel and game plan have to change or we will fail to be effective, even in the 6N. For example, Mike Ross should be thanked profusely for digging us out of a huge hole and letting us get some good props developed but he should retire from international rugby now. We should start to look seriously at youngsters like Tom Daly, Gary Ringrose, Adam Byrne, Stuart McCloskey, Tadhg Furlong, Dave Foley, etc.
    WE need to keep the good bits, defence especially, and improve our off-loading and passing skills. Its no surprise that the ABs pre-match warmup is entirely about these things and not at all about bashing people. Their philosophy is about identifying space and using it, not looking for the man to bash into. We don’t need to re-invent the wheel, we just need to make ours better and, if that means copying the more successful sides, then why not?

  9. There are plenty of intelligent comments coming to the surface here and one would have to agree with most.

    The game has to expand in Ireland. Connaught are the only province that appear to me to be advancing.

    The level of coverage and interest has to expand. There is a residual interest but not a passionate interest. The retail shops did no trade when Ireland were playing. How are we going to get develop this interest ? We did it with the AIL but then it died. Why?

    When I don’t see three Limerick clubs at the top of the first division then we have a problem. They bring energy and belief.

    Why are we talking to each other about these things but hear nothing from the IRFU? They are so elusive. It may be where the real problem is?

    We have to have a national debate but I don’t see it happening. The Whiff is brilliant for debate but we are only talking to the converted.

    We need a public discussion in the 5 main cities at least. Go on Whiff you get the ball rolling.

    • What do the lower divisions of the AIL contribute to the game ?

      • JJ

         /  October 27, 2015

        Plenty at a social level but what more do you want them to do?

        • If the lower divisions of the AIL are about social rugby then would they not add more value to the provincial leagues?

          • Lop12

             /  October 27, 2015

            absolutely 100% agree with this. AIL as a concept is dead for lower division sides. two national leagues with the rest of the “senior clubs” reverting to provincial leagues is the way forward. Easy enough build in a national element for knockout stages then, and retain a promotion/relegation incentive to National leagues.

      • jacothelad

         /  October 27, 2015

        Fun

    • montigol

       /  October 27, 2015

      A national debate of kneejerking internet commentators after a quarter final defeat to an excellent Argentina team is actually not what’s neede.

      • toro toro

         /  October 27, 2015

        Amen. Some jaw-dropping stupidity and airing of completely irrelevant pet rocks going on here.

  10. Andrew097

     /  October 27, 2015

    The most depressing thing about our exit is Ireland lost every contest on the park. Physical and intellectual our players looked less skilled and their decision making looked poor as well. We even looked out couched as it pains me to say. We have this attitude that players cant change yet we have seen Argentina change their playing style in the few years they have been in The Championship, they can we can’t. It’s depressing to see the hype around many of our players when many have obvious flaws that remain after years of coaching. I really thought when Schmidt took over we would become more of a skill, speed of though playing side. But it looks as if Irish rugby culture or maybe NH culture has dragged him down.
    We were thourghly outclassed and there is only one thing you can do change or carry on.

  11. Mary Hinge

     /  October 27, 2015

    Agree with a lot of the comments here, and at least some issues have been clarified in this RWC.
    1) Healy was selected on reputation and not fitness or form and if this drags on into the Six Nations then Connacht’s Buckley must be given his chance.
    2) Henderson should play 6 if O’Mahony not available, but otherwise must start second row for 6N.
    3) Marmion/Luke McGrath must come into the 6N squad. Reddan and Boss to get their P45’s.
    4) Ringrose, Healy, and Gilroy to come into consideration for wing spots. Tommy Bowe’s race is probably now run, and Average Dave will make a fine provincial winger but he is not international class.
    5) Henshaw to 13, or even better 15 with McCloskey/Olding in contention for 12 with Bundee Aki being eligible to play from 2017 onwards. If Henshaw doesn’t move to 15 then we should play Payne there. Rob Kearney’s race is run.
    6) Tommy O’Donnell should get a prolonged run at 7 when he returns to fitness. We need a good groundhog to complement O’Mahony/Heaslip. Chris Henry has proved he isn’t the answer, although perhaps Jake Heenan (if he ever gets fit) may be.
    7) captaincy to Rory Best.

    • Let me take issue with some of those point
      1. I’m not sure Buckley has done a huge amount to justify the amount of inches he gets – I’d rather have James Cronin tbh
      2. Who plays in the row then? Tuohy? Not sure that makes the XV better
      4. Fitzgerald? Earls? Zebo? Gilroy for sure, Healy too. Ringrose as a centre preferably
      6. TOD is less than 3 years younger than Henry and has a performance graph well below over the last 5 years – not meaning to write him off, but wouldn’t be jettisoning Henry so quickly
      7. Probably. POM is he was fit, but he ain’t

      • Mary Hinge

         /  October 27, 2015

        2) I’d play Ryan and Toner in the second row if Henderson required to replace O’Mahony at flanker for the 6N. If O’Mahony fit then Henderson back into the second row with Ryan to the bench.

      • 1. Surely this is form related. Ireland waited half the tourney for an out of form Healy. Buckley or Cronin, does it matter if they are in form?
        2. Donnacha Ryan offers something to the XV.
        4. What has Ringrose done on the Leinster team to justify the amount of inches he gets? Olding, McCloskey and Chris Farrell are all further down the track.

        • ORiordan

           /  October 27, 2015

          Olding has two serious knee injuries that have put him out of rugby for about 9 months each time. I’d wait and see if he can return to the game at full fitness and stay uninjured before thinking about him for Ireland.

          That is twice you have been shouting for Farrell. How many of his games for Grenoble have you actually seen?

          • Earls and Fitz unlucky with injuries but as soon as fit all brought in to the Ireland squad. Why should Olding be any different? Farrell has over 20 odd games for Grenoble how many has Ringrose? When Ringrose has proved he is a standard above in the senior Leinster team then it is time. Until then it is the same hype that surrounds Fitz. Between now and then let’s hope he doesn’t suffer the same injuries as Olding.

          • mikerob2015

             /  October 27, 2015

            I’m questioning your assumption that Olding is “further down the track”. If he gets fit he will be but he isn’t fit and it was somewhat worrying that his last return to rugby lasted all of about 20 minutes before he was out for another 9 months.

            Farrell can’t expect the same chances in France than a player with one of the provinces. Them’s the breaks. When he left he was an injury prone player who had hardly been tearing up trees in his few appearances for Ulster. Certainly he never had the impact that McCloskey has had.

          • Fitz wasn’t fit for an extended period of time but yet as soon as he was, straight in to the Irish squad, form not even a question. Earls not even a question at outside center for the QF. Ireland waited half the tourney for Healy who showed no form. Olding has already 36 odd caps for Ulster so in terms of experience he is further down the track. The only question is when he is fit how long will it take to build confidence and form.
            McCloskey has taken advantage of the few opportunities he has been offered in one if the few competitive areas in the Ulster squad. When Farrell left he was playing for a bench spot but Ulster did not want him to leave, a great prospect. I really doubt players of that calibre such as JJ Hanrahan would leave if they had every faith in the coaching. In terms of the provinces players chances the IRFU may have to review that rule especially if the Aussie’s win the RWC.

          • ORiordan

             /  October 28, 2015

            On Olding, I still think it is a case of “if he gets fit” rather than “when he gets fit”. Two major knee ligament injuries in a player who is only 22 does not bode well for a long career but I hope I’m wrong.

            I think you are overstating the case for Farrell. Ulster would have been perfectly happy for him to stay as squad filler behind a number of other players but they certainly weren’t going to push the boat out to keep him as they didn’t think he was worth it. To Farrell’s credit, he wasn’t content to hang around for an occasional spot warming the pine and went elsewhere to stake a claim for a starting place that was clearly going to be difficult to get at Ulster.

            Ireland aren’t like England and Australia with a “rule” preventing selection of players in France… heard of Jonny Sexton? But when it comes to the Ireland coaching team, they will be able to see all of the provincial home games but it is a lot more difficult to see Grenoble . The French teams also won’t release a player for an Ireland training session outside the international windows while the provinces will. A player in France (unless your name is Sexton) is therefore at a massive disadvantage when it comes to selection.

        • aoifehamill

           /  October 27, 2015

          Ringrose is a good player and has out and out speed which is pretty exciting… It’s nice to see a winger who’ll back themselves on the outside.

          • curates_egg

             /  October 27, 2015

            Except he’s a centre, who has started his first senior Leinster games on the wing to ease him in (finishing them in the centre). The last thing we need is to convert another potential centre into a one-trick wing. Pavlovian stuff

        • Christiaan, I’m a big fan of Olding and reckon’d going into the RWC that he was the player we would miss the most. I still stand by that assessment. What has Ringrose done, you ask. He’s the most dangerous player in the Leinster backline this season thus far with ball in hand. Defensively he’s sound, makes his tackles stick and works like a terrier at the breakdown. The kid’s the real deal, IMO.

          • He is great prospect that is burdened with hype in the same way Fitz is and with the legacy of BOD. Leinster fans want to see him into the Six Nations squad. Whereas Irish fans are hoping he will make it to next RWC. Guess it will be somewhere in between.

      • Lop12

         /  October 27, 2015

        Cronin done very little since breakthrough season Whiff? Know you are not a Kilcoyne fan but Cronin needs to dislodge him at minimum before you can rank him ahead of Buckley (and I am a Munster fan). Rumour has it Munster in process of converting Cronin to TH in any event.

        • Well said, this Cronin for Ireland nonsense is one of my pet hates and a constant trope in Irish sport: the guy who can’t get a game is always the better player (I call it “the corner-back’s brother”).

          Cronin and Buckley are the same age. Cronin has 18 Muntser starts, Buckley 48. Buckley has been in the league team of the year; against Munster last year he had 5 ruck turnovers in 55 minutes on the field, and thus far this year Connacht have scored 4 tries on 1st phase off scrum, including one on opposition ball. While Cronin is injured, benched playing for Munster A.

          Even as a blinkered Connacht supporter I don’t see Buckley having much of an international career simply because Healy and McGrath are just so good, but when I see someone promoting Cronin (not even Kilcoyne, who’s also inferior to Buckley, but, you know, actually gets a game) the red (should that be green?) mist descends.

        • Not sure that we saw the best of Healy at the RWC. The injury took its toll, remember something similar happening with SOB. It’s maybe a bit much in terms of expectation that these players should come back straight after rehab in World Class form. Would have thought a player such as Buckley would have a role to play in the squad to disrupt players comfort zones when they are going through a period of loss of form.

    • Lop12

       /  October 27, 2015

      Id also include Cooney in the list of options at 9. Iv said it here several times but I think he is potentially (if not already) a better player than Marmion. Ironically he might have a better chance of substantial prolonged gametime at Leinster now than Connacht!!

      • He’s only signed to Connacht til next summer, so he’s definitely kept his options open there (as well he should).

  12. Roundy

     /  October 27, 2015

    Are we not over reacting a bit. Yes we failed to get to the semi’s but whats new. The WC is not the bee all and end all. By all means use the four year WC cycle to hone your squads but dont throw the baby out with the bath water. From a glass half full perspective we do seem to have a pretty competitive front row with options. With no Paulie there will be a massive hole to fill in the second row but Hendo goes some way to do that. What worries me is the replacement locks. We dont seem to have an abundance in the queue, yet. We are awash with talented back rowers. What we do need is to play player in their specific positions. Whats wrong with playing an out and out seven at seven! For me SOB aint a seven, more a six. But we have huge talent here so lets start using it. Nine and ten backups need encouragement and game time. Marmion, McGrath, PJ, Mads all need to be given game time. A lot of calls for McCloskey to come into the centre but is he not to similar to Henshaw and Payne? Should we not be looking for someone to complement the hard runnin / hitting centres. More of a D’Arcy type? Ringrose perhaps (any other suggestions?). But play centres in the centre and leave wingers outside. Come in Zebo your time is now. Give him a prolonged run on the wings with possibly Earls on the opposite wing. Bob still the main fifteen but again we have much talent to replace him with. Lets rotate a bit more. The six nations is our main bread and butter tournament and it will be our main International focus for the next four years and rightly so. Yeah change may be required but gradually. We still have a great coach and are awash with talented players. A third six nations in a row would be warmely welcomed! Ya can stick your world cup. At least for another four years!

    • curates_egg

       /  October 27, 2015

      The world cup is the only yardstick in world rugby. It is the ‘be all and end all’. It is what the serious rugby playing nations aim towards (and even the second tier ones, as we can see by their improved performance levels in the tournament). Only in Ireland or Wales would you really get people who believe the 6 Nations is somehow a relevant yardstick. All it does is make money for the IRFU…and therein lies the bind. The IRFU are addicted to the cash from the 6 Nations and the Lions (fair enough, you might say) and, as a result, we are doomed to be a non-serious international rugby nation.

      • aoifehamill

         /  October 27, 2015

        All the 6 nations does is make money for the IRFU? You have to be kidding. Do you think we should just… exist in the 4 year periods between world cups? Have all the 32+ year old rugby players taken out and shot now, you’re no more use boys?

      • Lop12

         /  October 27, 2015

        This is a point that’s always made and think it is probably relevant. How much of a fall off in income would the IRFU have in reality though if we had a few mediocre 6N seasons? Stadium still be full for most/all games I would have thought.

        • aoifehamill

           /  October 27, 2015

          I think it’s not a great strategy to say “we’ll sacrifice this years 6N” in order to change the playing style. Building up a winning culture in Irish rugby has been a hard-fought process, I wouldn’t assume we’d easily return to it after 2 years say of mediocre rugby. And also, what would be the point?

          You can’t assume the stadiums will be full if the quality goes down – look at attendances for the soccer over the last few years. It’s no fun watching your team losing all the time & tickets are expensive.

          • curates_egg

             /  October 27, 2015

            And most Irish rugby fans and the IRFU sadly agree with you, which is why we will never be a serious international rugby side. We will continue to bludgeon our way to the odd 6 nations and raise ourselves for one off victories against disinterested S Hemisphere sides (except the ABs).

            If that is your ambition as an Ireland fan, then you won’t be disappointed.

            If you would like to see us mixing it with the best, and maybe challenging for a final spot in the only tournament that counts, it would mean using serious games to develop a squad and gameplan. And, shock horror, writing off the odd 6 nations.

            I have no doubt what I would prefer…but I expect us to try and again bludgeon our way to 4 heroic victories in 2016.

          • curates_egg

             /  October 27, 2015

            On the specific ‘quality’ point: you’d want to be a pretty one-eyed fan to describe our play in this year’s 6 nations as quality. It was effective when well executed but, beyond Irish rugby fans who all enjoy a win, it must have been like pouring acid in your eyes to watch.

            For the first time in my life, I enjoyed watching England play over the past 2 years. It was perhaps the biggest shame of the World Cup that they threw all that hard work out the window to revert to ugly rugby that proved totally ineffective

          • aoifehamill

             /  October 27, 2015

            I don’t really know what you’re driving at here (apart from pointing out my apparent crushing lack of ambition for Irish rugby). Do you think the way to improve the team is to have a crap 6N? Can you point to anywhere this has worked before? Are Scotland, Italy and France just biding their time to unleash the terrific masterplan within?

            I am not at all suggesting you have to play conservatively all the time but to say “feck the 6 nations, all that matters is the world cup” is completely daft.

          • D6W

             /  October 27, 2015

            But Curates, have you yourself not often commented upon, and presumably cared about, how Ireland have done in the 6N? At the time did you dismiss our last two 6N titles as “irrelevant”?

          • curates_egg

             /  October 28, 2015

            D6W, I think I have been pretty consistent in regretting our reductive gameplan and certainly found this year’s 6 nations victory more than a bit hollow. I would have traded it in a hearbeat for a semi-final spot and a shot at an RWC final.

            Aoifehamill, look no further than Scotland this year.

      • SportingBench

         /  October 27, 2015

        You might have a point if we were routinely winning the 6N and getting grand slams but we don’t. Yep the last 2 titles on points difference and what, 3 GS in 100 years? Wales with 3 GS in 10 years are better justified to complain that it isn’t much of a preparation for the RWC. If NZ, Aus or SA were in the 6N they would not just win it routinely but would probably only count GS as a win. The problem is not that we play in the 6N, the problem is that we aren’t winning it. We performed worse in the RWC than Wales who have a superior 6N record but better than England, France and Italy against whom we have a better 6N record recently. Kind of implies that the 6N is a good yardstick for where we are.

        • curates_egg

           /  October 27, 2015

          Oh, I agree: the 6 nations is the perfect yardstick for where we are because that is the level of ambition.

          Of the sides you list, remind me how many have failed to reach a semi? Wales a case in point or comparison. They probably should have made the final last time. This time, were it not for injuries, who knows. Christ, even Scotland (who definitely used the last year to solely build towards the World Cup) could/should have made a semi. Fair play to Cotter and the Union there for their vision.

          • SportingBench

             /  October 27, 2015

            It is difficult to measure Scotland’s world cup however. They beat a tired Japan and Samoa. Sure they played well in one game (v Aus) but part of the problem is that the NH has to stop awarding itself merit points for trying hard. Aus were disinterested and gifted a couple of tries yet still Scotland couldn’t beat them. I’d say they are still rubbish.

          • This. They were pretty fortunate to come through that pool – the timing of the Japan fixture and a generous refereeing decision or 2 against Samoa helped out.

            They do have a good core of young players though

          • curates_egg

             /  October 28, 2015

            Impossible to say but what we do know is that they were one (or actually two if you count the Hogg non-penalty) dodgy decision away from beating Australia and making a semi-final. What is clear is that Cotter was given license to develop his squad and gameplan over the past year…and it seems clear that results in the 6 Nations didn’t matter. We shall see how they perform this year. Maybe they are still rubbish…but they still managed to peak for their world cup quarter final; something we have never ever managed to do (excepting maybe 1991).

          • Its also fair to say that expectations were on the floor – if Cotter avoided the wooden spoon it would have counted as success. Its easier to experiment in that atmosphere

          • SportingBench

             /  October 28, 2015

            I think giving Irish players a licence to lose games isn’t going to help when part of the problem is them not playing at the required intensity at key moment..
            As WoC says, Ireland are in a very different place than Scotland who went into the last 6N with the choice of changing things to see what happens or not changing things and competing for the wooden spoon anyway

          • mxyzptlk

             /  October 28, 2015

            Building on this and your previous comments, is there any reason why any 6N team couldn’t start to develop a more attacking style while still playing to win? I’m not sure why the choice is either lose all of the 6N and hope for the best or close up shop narrowly playing a kicking game just to get the wins. If England showed anything last 6N, it’s that tries win games. They came across that more by accident than by design, through injury-enforced changes, but it worked; had they made those changes sooner they could have run away with the tournament, and they only have themselves to blame for not continuing that style in the WC.

            The comparisons to the Rugby Championship and the last round of the 2015 6N are also instructive. The Rugby Championship isn’t hampered by their four sides trying to score tries over just scoring more than their opponents. It proves to be exciting, watchable rugby that also prepares those sides to roll over other sides that play for penalties and aim for contact instead of space.*

            And as far as the northern unions getting most of their earnings through the 6N, didn’t that final round show that an attacking style of play drew far more attention than four previous rounds of Premiership-style attrition and grind? What draws more interest (and attention and money), behemoth gym bunnies running into each other until one side gives over, or a darting Milner-Skudder or Shane Williams or Drew Mitchell making those same gym bunnies trip over themselves? Or even a behemoth who can make a cut, a pass, or an offload?

            We know Ireland can play with ball in hand, but really just don’t — it seems to be Plan C instead of Plan A, but at least it’s an option. But I’m not sure we can buy into Gordon D’Arcy’s argument that Ireland just don’t have the talent and can’t develop the talent at the pro level. That didn’t stop Argentina from changing from South Africa-lite into an attacking threat. The relative lack of resources, background and support hasn’t hurt Japan’s development into an attacking team. A couple seasons ago Scotland was scoring as many tries in an entire 6N tournament as they do in a game now, if that, and they’ve developed that style in generally crappy conditions. Or even Canada, ffs. It doesn’t seem like the exception is the ability to play attacking rugby, the exception is the unwillingness to attempt it.

            The other side to that is Ireland aren’t getting any bigger, and aren’t going to be regularly producing players the size of George North or Julian Savea or Sam Burgess or Louis Picamoles. So why play a style that plays into the giants’ hands and welcomes the collisions? Even the kicking game partly depends on getting to the ball before the bigger people and then the bigger people not being able to flatten the ball carrier after the catch (which wasn’t paying off near the end of Ireland’s WC run). One thing Ireland had to face this past 6N was that the other sides were used to how they played and were able to shut them down more effectively, turning their games into more attritional grinds that Ireland still won, but narrowly. And something those collision-based teams had to face this WC was considerably more injuries than teams looking for space. I’m not sure Ireland can keep playing the same game plan and expect similar results (unless those results are diminishing returns), and they’re not big enough and powerful enough to hope to win attritional collision games against generally larger and more powerful sides.

            The thing is, the Pro 12 is better positioned for teams to make some changes in their attacking style. There isn’t as much money sunk into it as the Premiership or the Top 14, and thus less attention on it, and there isn’t the same threat of relegation. If a Celtic nation wanted to develop a more attacking style, they could easily start to experiment with the Pro 12 sides, and work their way up (kind of like what Scotland has done via Glasgow). And I don’t think many people would complain about a Pro 12 that runs more, passes more, offloads more, and scores more tries than the Premiership or Top 14 — which could pay dividends come the European Cup. Joe Schmidt — and probably David Nucifora — is in a good position to help direct the provincial sides if Ireland wanted to develop its attack, and thus how they could play in the Pro 12 in order to help develop that style of play.

            TL/DR: Claiming that developing an attacking style means wooden-spooning the 6N for the hopes of a WC semifinal is a false choice. There’s no reason a good side can start to develop and incorporate a running, attacking style and still win 6N games. It may mean not winning it all, like England failed to do in 2015, but it was a new style and they still nearly won it. They also showed that a side who keeps working at that style can score tries and win games, as well as how pulling back into a defensive shell against attacking sides gets them nothing. Ireland can’t count on a power game, but can count on being able to move, move the ball, and using their general savviness to play scoring rugby. And if done right, a change in attacking style could begin at the Pro 12 level.

            * (Speaking of which, seriously, just look at this moment from South Africa – Wales QF; at the 59th minute George North fields a kick near his own 22 about 15 meters from the touchline. He has maybe MAYBE three defenders down the 20-meter-wide channel along the wing, JP Pietersen and possibly Pollard and LeRoux, but it’s hard to tell because really only Pietersen is visible in the shot. Every other defender, and most of the Welsh pack, is bunched up in the center of the field, with another four Springboks over along the opposite edge. In the video, Shane Williams says North has all kinds of space and all he has to do is run straight; as soon as he says that, North angles in, and instead of taking Pietersen on one-on-one in all that of space, North runs directly into eight South African defenders in the middle of the field, stifling the Welsh attack. It’s a baffling moment of preferring contact over space. Video on gfycat here: http://bit.ly/1KFbYTm)

          • curates_egg

             /  October 28, 2015

            England developed a good rugby style over the past 2 years, whilst still trying to win. They were very unlucky not to win the 6 Nations this year. Then they inexplicably tore up the playbook.

            On the size issue, that is a real straw man. Ireland no longer has a backline of diddymen. There were various comparison stats doing the rounds but, in this world cup, we had a comparatively big backline and certainly bigger than Argentina. Murray and Sexton are very big in their positions. Kearneys, Henshaw, Bowe, Payne…none of them is small. Our pack is also pretty big comparatively. People don’t seem to have noticed but we have moved on from the small Irish team (Stringer, ROG, Darcy, BOD, Hickie).

          • Not sure the North example is a good one. He clearly scans the defensive line to look for potential mismatches and then runs at the Boks lock where he gets support. However it is interesting that his decision was to take on a forward in congestion rather than to look for space.

          • SportingBench

             /  October 28, 2015

            Really good points mxyzptlk. You also identify the crux of the issue when people talk about style and systems. The question to ask is how does team X beat team Y and adjust style appropiately. For example Wales should be now have reached the conclusion that Warrenball is not the style to beat Australia and therefore try something a little different. No single style is a panacea it is about resources and match ups.
            Similarly when others including me have talked about decison making by players what we are talking about is exactly what you highlight with North. The players have to ask themselves, what am I attempting to achieve in this phase and how does it help the team? Too often irish players do something, mostly kick, with no answer to either question. That isn’t always the coaches fault. With Joe Schmidt the question of how does the team win (style or tactics) is clearly thought out – generally quick ruck ball, contestable kicks for which we have a greater chance than 50% of retaining possession) whether it is exciting or even the correct way. Poor execution such as choosing to kick when there is an overlap or slow ruck ball is not part of Joe’s plan as clearly the plan is about speed and retaining possession such as with contestable kicks. Such poor execution results from hiding behind tactics rather than looking up and thinking, taking responsiblilty. Changing kick to offload in describing Ireland’s play, which some on here appear to be blindly advocating, without the players playing the situation and answering the question on how does my action this help us win, wont help Ireland progress. The ABs and Aus are in the final because they have chosen the right options at the right time and executed them well not because they chose a single style or option.

          • Would generally except that consistency of execution has been a major issue with Ireland teams. However Joe’s plan has clearly not been infallible. Slow ruck ball is going to happen, anything else is just disrespectful to international opposition. Extended periods of multiphase possession with no real penetration in attack will cause a loss of confidence and in turn will effect execution. What a coach does about it defines their planning and that still remains to be seen.

          • mxyzptlk

             /  October 29, 2015

            I don’t think the size issue is a straw man, at all. There are a few good-sized players on the current national team, but they’re also the exception right now, not the rule. Look who’s coming up behind the starters, or through the ranks: Madigan and Jackson aren’t huge, and Sexton, despite his size, is fairly fragile. Out of Leinster alone, people like Dave Kearney, Ringrose, Noel Reid, Cian Kelleher, McGrath (Luke and Mick), Josh VDF, Cathal Marsh — none of them are particularly large for their positions. Up north, of the possible internationals, the only center with real size is Stuart McCloskey; Bowe’s big, but injured, and has probably seen his better days, and Gilroy just doesn’t have Bowe/Trimble size. Down south, the back-up scrum halfs are all a little closer to Peter Stringer-size than Conor Murray; Tommy O’Donnell is a great flanker, but doesn’t have nearly the same size as O’Mahony or O’Brien; Earls is actually about the same size as Keatley (both under 6 ft, about 200 lb); and out west, Henshaw’s a big human, but of the possible internationals in the backs, Marmion is about the same size as Keatley and Earls.

            The front row union is looking pretty good all around, and the locks look good, but overall — especially in the backs — Ireland seems to generate decent athletes of relatively average size. But that’s really beside the point, because even their big players have played more effectively when they’ve been running smart lines, changing the point of direction, and moving the ball at pace. My stomach dropped when Sexton went out injured against France, but watching the way Madigan managed to flatten the attack and keep a threat on the gainline helped put my stomach back in place. I’d like to see more of that and Henshaw stepping Bastareaud, rather then Sexton crashing into him head-on.

            Less crash, more flash. Let the French and the English collide themselves into the mud; I think the Irish would do better to leave them stuck there.

          • mxyzptlk

             /  October 29, 2015

            Christiaan, North scans the defense, but so does Shane Williams on the commentary; he has a full view of the field, and calls what North needs to do — just has to run straight. Williams was a handy winger and knew how to read a field; I originally watched that clip over and over again, trying to figure out what North was thinking, and it was Williams’ commentary that swayed me.

            About slow ruck ball, one thing this WC has shown is the importance of the offload to avoid even getting into a ruck situation that can be slowed down in the first place. D’Arcy aside, BOD kept saying throughout the tournament that he wished Ireland took a few more risks in that department, and some of the better tries they scored were set up by Earls, Fitzgerald or Henshaw offloads. That’s probably going to have to become an option when their ruck ball is regularly disrupted.

      • Roundy

         /  October 28, 2015

        Its a professional game and bills must be paid. It makes no sense to ignore your cash cow and put all your focus on an event that comes around every four years and is nowhere near as profitable. That’s a recipe for disaster. The Six Nations gives the IRFU the money to deliver an International and four provincial teams (and a lot more besides). Ignore it at your peril.

        • curates_egg

           /  October 28, 2015

          Except nobody is arguing to put all our focus on it. Just more than we have done. If we wanted to be taken seriously in S Hemisphere.

  13. I think another factor at play here (and you can attack me for being silly if you wish) is the clement weather which dominated this World Cup. Hands up – who expected a largely dry England in September and October? I didn’t for one. Combined with a glut of teams who wanted to run the ball, and you arrive at the scenario whereby TRC and Tier 2 nations such as Japan (and Canada to an extent) thrived (relatively). If the “traditional British weather” had prevailed, would we have had a latter stages dominated by the Wonders from Down Under (and of course Japan, who last I checked were very much north of the Equator)?
    More than any other sport, rugby is in essence a game defined by conditions – with the obvious exception of BNZ, whose players it seems could play touchline to touchline rugby in a typhoon. Muddy has harped on for years about how the Wobblies struggle to play in the wet (though this is a bit of a fallacy).
    As ye have said in the piece, November and February-March don’t exactly lend themselves to running rugby; that and what Dorce has written in his brilliant articles about the skillsets and mindsets. I re-read Brendan Fanning’s excellent ‘From There To Here’ over the weekend and was struck that many of the same issues have kept recurring over the last 20 years. Hopefully with Nucifora at the helm now a proper in-depth RWC review and longterm strategy for development (with the provinces in tow) can be put in place – I’m not holding my breath though …

  14. SportingBench

     /  October 27, 2015

    To be honest I think you all watched a different World Cup to me. While it is fun to talk tactics and selection, Ireland were blown away at the start and end of the game against Argentina and struggled against Italy because of the speed of thought and deed or rather the lack there of. Irish players can play, think and react quickly on the rugby field as they have shown in the past however they consistently struggle to do so for a full game and have, well, for ever.
    Argentina played at top pace for the whole game, something they have developed by playing against the SH teams regularly. We could only match that for 50 minutes. This consistent problem suggests that the problem is more mental than physical. We just aren’t used to playing hard for the full game. The faster, more intense you play, the more gaps there are and therefore the more tries scored and actually the better you look. What has to change is the thought that Irish players are great or world class when they put in patchy, inconsistent performances. rather than pick x because they might do something if they are in the mood we should pick y who will deliver a high level every game, all the time (provided they can catch, pass, tackle etc. to a sufficient standard) . Unless Ireland can play at the right level of intensity, they will be blown away in their off periods by good teams. This isn’t a physical fitness thing, it is a mental fitness thing but is consistently ignored in the NH. You even get certain UK journalists describing Super Rugby as netball because teams try to keep the ball alive and prefer to run the legs of a defence rather than running out of puff and resting up for a bit.
    Of course part of the reason it is ignored is that you can beat Scotland, Italy and France with a good 20-30 minute spell and hang on during the rest of the game. England are a patchy team too and only Gatland’s Wales match the SH for intensity in most games. We’ve been lucky in Ireland to catch them cold on the opening day of the 6N a few years recently. Have we beaten Wales recently when both teams have been up and running? If we met in the RWC does anyone think we would have beaten them?
    The one good thing about this RWC though is at least we might finally bury the mental hang-ups we have about France. As pretty much only WoC pointed out, the French are rubbish and have been for years. Everyone seems to realise this except us who continue to be terrified of them. You will alwys struggle to beat a team if you give them too much respect and we routinely give France far too much respect.

    • Fairly spot on except for France. We all know what France are capable of and Ireland have been in the past on the wrong end of the few occasions that France have decided to play. No matter what happens with France we can all rest assured that out of the blue France will put in a performance. If Ireland had been on the end of the QF performance in the six nations could they have gone on to win it?

      • SportingBench

         /  October 28, 2015

        Or is that the very attitude, giving France too much credit, that means they produce these “out of the blue performances” against us?

  15. col

     /  October 27, 2015

    Agree with a lot said above although I must say my biggest concern short term is our need for new TH lock. Think it was the first scrum last week where our locks got separated and our scrum disintegrated from the middle. Last time this happened IIRC was Joe’s first game against Oz. I think we could see the impact filling this role had on NWJMB’s game in the loose and wonder if this is where we should have him long term or would we be better served moving him to the loose head side, problem here is I can’t think of another lock with the current or potential ability to fill the TH role for Ireland. Thoughts?

    Not sure we will ever see hemshaw and mccloskey in the same team. Too similar. Would leave us with an attack very like England in my mind.

    Captain should probably be someone who will likely be around in 2015 so POM for me, Rory filling in while he is recovering.

  16. Lots of good points made both in the article, and in the comments: great to see sensible debate!

    I’m as disappointed as any of us with our RWC failure – let’s call a spade a spade – but don’t think that it is all doom and gloom. We have a good framework for pro rugby in Ireland and, whilst we certainly should be making some adjustments and improvements, I don’t think that a radical overhaul is needed (unlike, say, France). I do think that European rugby needs to take a longer term view, and work at pooling resources towards developing the game across the continent, and improving both emerging an traditional rugby areas. In any case, that is a question for a different thread (and a bloody hard thing to achieve, if the fate of the H Cup is anything to go by).

    Here are some thoughts to chuck into the mix:

    1. Develop a more explicit tiering system – which broadly already exists – and connect them to each other more fluidly to maximise playing resources. For example, is Irish rugby best served by having Iain Madigan playing second fiddle to first Jimmy Gopperth, and now Sexton – especially when Munster’s first choice Irish out half can’t even make the 45-man training squad? Munster can’t produce Irish qualified centres, yet Ulster churn them off the production line. Ulster are short of IQ back rowers, and Leinster have a backlog who need game time. Connacht’s imports have added real quality, but that is only a short term measure.
    Tier 1: Irish international sides. Tier 2: the four provinces. Tier 3: the clubs – perhaps where the most work needs to be done. Tier 4: the schools.
    In this pyramid system, the good of the national team is paramount. There is a fine balance to ensure that the provinces – and clubs – don’t suffer unduly, but let’s all agree that the green shirt is the highest priority.
    2. Increase the quality and quantity of professional coaches in schools and clubs, especially for younger age groups. If these coaches are connected to a central, mid-to-long-term coaching philosophy, that would probably help.
    3. Change the focus at youth level from winning matches – all sports people are inherently competitive, so this won’t be lost – to developing skills. Many people have commented recently how in NZ kids structures, if a team is being beaten by 30 points, the coaches rearrange the teams to make it more competitive. This is unheard of in Ireland, but would surely help: as someone who was on the wrong end of plenty of one-sided schoolboy matches, I know how little a 40 point hiding helps.
    4. Move to age-group based divisions to weight-based divisions for kids. Rugby has become something of a combat sport: let’s match the kids up accordingly.
    5. Shift the focus in schools from the cups to a league. Feel free to keep a knockout format similar to the Pro12. For most schools – and players – the current system means only a handful of competitive games all season.
    6. Make the AIL regional/provincial below the top one or two tiers. That gives the national divisions more kudos – making it more of a target to aspire to – and also removes expensive and time-consuming travel for the less well-resourced clubs.
    7. Try to create a Pro12 Academy league to give the emerging players a higher standard to play at. Even if only 11 games were played – alternating home and away games over consecutive seasons – this would provide a real testing ground for our young talents.
    8. Embrace 7s – it is ideal for developing the skills that we were so clearly missing at RWC.
    9. Approach the RWC cycle in two 2-year sprints, using the first two post-RWC years to develop as many players as possible, and the latter two years to consolidate the squad with a view towards the next RWC. For example, Rory Best (33) might well make an excellent captain for Ireland over the next season, maybe two. He is not going to play at RWC19, so let’s make the most of him while we can but have some succession planning in place – something we patently did not have for O’Driscoll and D’Arcy, for example.

    I’d love some debate on any of the above.

    • curates_egg

       /  October 28, 2015

      I’d agree 100% with 9 but it is never going to happen because the IRFU has never really indicated it cares about the world cup. It doesn’t make money off the world cup, unlike, say, the 6 Nations, the not-Heineken Cup or the commercial hullabalooza of the Lions. Sure, it is the pinnacle of rugby and the one the serious nations want to win…but that doesn’t seem to motivate the IRFU.

    • mxyzptlk

       /  October 28, 2015

      Did you hear Brian Moore on the same episode of Full Contact as I did? He some of these same points.

      • I’m a big fan of Moore’s broadcasting, but haven’t heard the latest Full Contact. I think I have heard him talk about weight divisions and skills development for kids, though.

        • mxyzptlk

           /  October 28, 2015

          Yep, Moore’s talked about weight divisions and skills development a few times now. He’s also mentioned how at the kids level in NZ, if one side is shellacking the other, they’ll switch up the teams at half time, so some of the winning side’s better players go over to the other side for the second half. His point was that they’re way more focused on having fun and developing skills than just win at any cost, and their success should be a lesson to those who argue kids shouldn’t be encouraged to just participate over winning.

          Funny thing is David O’Doherty said something similar on Second Captains, making a joke about when he had a Kiwi coach for a while in school (Bachop). Said they were used to being yelled at by priests, and then Bachop comes along and says “Okay boys, today we’re going to play water polo,” and O’Doherty realized for the first time rugby could be fun.

    • 2. Should all the provincial squads be expected to coach youth rugby as part if their contract requirements?
      6. To drive professional standards would it not be best to have a single AIL tier with play offs for promotion and relegation for clubs from the provinces?
      8. Not sure Nucifora really has an effective strategy for 7s. All the resources that have been and will need to be put into overcoming the barriers to a senior men’s team that the tier 1 nations are already streets ahead of. In terms of bang for buck would an Olympic experience for youth rugby not be an easier sell than the JWC to those from a traditional non rugby background ?

  17. andrew097

     /  October 27, 2015

    The failure of Ireland is a massive reality check for as it should be for supporters too. The hype about players being World Class was blown out of the water BIG TIME. France were spanked by NZ for 60 points and we were beaten by a gap wider then the points we scored. It just shows we were in the worst pool. None of Irelands players looked as good as Argentina’s. Their skills, decision making, understanding, body angles, unit skills, basic skills all looked better.
    Our players still looked like the had had not progressed one bit, The faults they have are still there. I don’t want to name a name because people will get riled and get defensive about their favourite players but the same players are falling off tackles, being slow, running side ways. dropping passes, kicking badly and generally poor execution of basic skills.

    There is a saying in classical music “that good technique liberates talent” but our players look like they do not practise the basic stuff that they use 90% of the time on the pitch. So their potential and talent will always be wasted.
    The Argies did not have to work too hard to get the ball back, we either kicked it to them or knocked it on after a few phases. Meanwhile they looked like they could keep it in the hand far longer then us.
    In the Leinster game at the weekend it was the same story after a few phases dropped pass or bad pass and ball to Glasgow then they keep it twice as long as we can. The win masked a lot of poor play.
    Irish rugby seems to have this malaise that carries on from generation to generation. This stopped at Leinster with Joe but it seems to be back into the national team. Looking at the 1/4 final was like looking at every Irish team for ever, big win then poor play by ordinary players with poor skills making second rate mistakes. Australia have a second row that could not get a start at Leinster and their ordinary players do not make the same basic mistakes we do.
    To see such faults in players in this day of video analyses not being corrected is just depressing. Either the players cannot see it or their coaches cannot see it or players, coaches and all have no idea how to change bio mechanical responses in players.
    It seems unbelievable because there are good coaches there but the 1/4 final performance does not lie.
    Every frame of that 1/4 video should be torn to pieces to see how each player made a decision and how each player performed a skill. Then how to improve both, not to do so is just to accept second rate performances.

  18. A lot of excellent comments here. And some weird pessimism slash totally unrealistic expectations.
    Schmidt and his coaching team — and the players! — will all be devastated at their failure to make the semis. Mistakes were made; the injuries were crucial; but they still had a chance to do it from 17-0 down. They lost. Fair and square. To an excellent team. No moaning about referees or TMOs or Mike Phillips scoring in the corner.
    Remember where we were only 24 months ago. Rudderless and fairly clueless.
    Kidney was the right man at the right time, and he was the first to say injuries played a crucial part in the success of 2009. Over 5 games he lost only Rob Kearney as a starter, and had to replace Fez and bring Paddy Wallace on v Wales. And we still almost blew it.
    Over less than two years and 15 competitive games — while bringing home two titles — Schmidt has had to deal with the loss of BOD and D’Arcy — and in crucial matches in both 6 nations and World Cup has had to chop and change players before, during and after incredibly intense matches with immense success.
    The greatest compliment to Schmidt and his team is that the replacements have frequently been MOTM — Ruddock v SA, O’Donnell v ITA (a), but equally PJ and JM’G v ITA (h), and famously, the 3 amigos v FRA only a few weeks ago. But you could include Luke F v ARG and Earls (on balance) over the whole World Cup — as well as important cameos from Jordi M v ENG (h) and whole 6N campaigns by Trimble and D Kearney or Henshaw and Payne.
    This all speaks for a brilliantly motivated and well-coached group of players.
    Schmidt now has to deal with the loss of O’Connell (for good), Bowe (for the 6 nations), Sexton (a real worry now), Payne, Henderson, and O’Mahony (until the New Year). And people still think he has to freshen it up?
    He’s brought in and got up to Test standard J McGrath, Henshaw, and Henderson; blooded O’Donnell and Murphy; got Murray back to his best; brought back Earls and Fitz; found time for Zebo and hothoused Furlong for the battle ahead post-Ross.
    Of course there are limits — and selection errors — but really. BNZ without Ruchie? The Wallabies without Pocock? Us without BOD, POC or Sexton? Not to mention all three plus three others?
    We should applaud their efforts — and the performances of almost all the teams at the best World Cup in history.

  19. Whiff, could you print this discussion and post it into Philip Browne in the IRFU. While some is a bit loose broadly speaking the ideas are just brilliant. Something has to change because other wise we will at this same point as we were 4, 8 ,12 years ago.

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