A Welcome With Open Arms

Ireland’s new defence coach is… Andy Farrell.  Farrell won’t join until after this year’s Six Nations but has a contract which will take him up until after the 2019 World Cup. Welcome aboard, Andy!

It’s an appointment that’s interesting for a handful of reasons.  First of all, rather than drip-feeding the appointment out to the usual conduits in the media in advance so that they could get the broader public used to the idea, the news arrived as, well, news.  It’s hard to remember the last time any bit of news arrived hot off the press.  Even mundane stuff like team selections have been fed to Thornley and his chums for the last number of years almost without exception.

Another interesting element is that Andy Farrell does not appear to have been born in any of the following countries: New Zealand, Australia or South Africa.  Lordy!  What’s all this about?  Irish rugby has long adopted the stance that the southern hemisphere is the place where the best coaches come from, and it is they who they tend to employ.  There’s some history of English coaches – think Brian Ashton, which went well, right? – working in Ireland but not much.  The Irish public as a rule has little respect for the English way of playing.  English rugby is perceived on this isle (and beyond, to be fair) as being a samey, unimaginative sort of game, built on a forward pack which is powerful, but not Bok-powerful and sprinters on the wings but nobody who really has the imagination or skill level to give them the ball.

Andy Farrell goes even a step beyond that, completing a terrific hat-trick of associations that will immediately prove off-putting: Saracens, rugby league and the English World Cup effort.  That’s the holy trinity right there.  Rightly or wrongly, for who really knows, Farrell found himself being fingered with the decision to about-turn on England’s catch-and-pass gameplan and the move to revert to a more traditional bosh-and-kick strategy which backfired dismally and proved itself to be embarrassingly out of step with the approach of the better countries in the tournament.  Meanwhile, any mention of the word Saracens is enough to make Irish rugby fans groan. He’s also being blamed by angels like Bruce Craig for sending Slammin’ Sam back to Souths with his tail between his legs.

None of that will matter much to Schmidt however, who will see Farrell as a hard-nosed and experienced operator.  It won’t have gone unnoticed that Ireland’s defence – while generally the bedrock that has delivered two Six Nations – was passive and meek in the games against Italy and Argentina in the world cup.  Farrell might trade off some of Ireland’s love of the choke tackle for more aggressive line-speed.  Saracens’ famous wolf-pack defence, led with some degree of ferocity by Jacques Burger, focuses on the simple dynamic of coming up in a hard, straight line at such speed that they can suffocate teams at source.  Paul Gustard has been heralded for its implementation but Farrell had the team working in a similar fashion before moving on to Team England.  Farrell is also credited with the generally decent defence put up by the Lions in 2013.  While the games were so terrible only the pro-Gatland elements of the UK media will remember much of the specifics, for sure they didn’t win the series based on their attack, so the defence has to have been halfway decent.

There is of course one other English coach with a league background who has found himself in the position of having to coach his son – Mike Ford. Ford was, we believe, Ireland’s first ever defence coach (certainly the first decent one if not the first actual one) – it was an appointment that went well for both Ford and Ireland. Farrell is basically Ford minus a decade in his background and understanding of the game.

The final bit of intrigue was the confirmation that Brian O’Driscoll has become a sort of Twitter oracle whose every utterance becomes news in and of itself.  Part of the reporting of the news is that Brian O’Driscoll has endorsed the appointment.  Other recent events on which BOD has commented include Adam Ashley-Cooper and Ian Madigan’s moves to Bordeaux and the potential elevation of Garry Ringrose to the national team.  All have become news stories.  Perhaps an ‘Endorsed by Brian O’Driscoll on Twitter’ badge should be handed out to all those who receive his kudos.  He anticipates that under Farrell’s tutelage, Ireland would show good line-speed and kick-chase.  Dull and all as that sounds, it’s the bread and butter of defending.

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  1. We hired him for the beard to compensate for D’Arcy retiring, right?

    Overall, “Huh, that’s interesting” is pretty much my reaction to it. Like him or not, he’s in now, and it’s hard to argue with the performance without the ball of teams he’s coached – Sarries, England, Lions. I think a little ruthless aggression in defense is no bad thing, and something that was certainly lacking from Ireland in the QF (although, lets be fair, it was lacking from England in the pool stages really too).

    While I think there’s value in keeping the choke tackle (after all, we invented it, thanks Kissy!) there’s a time and a place for it, and I think bringing in someone like Farrell with a different perspective is only good, and you’d imagine that Joe would hardly hire someone who he didn’t think he could keep at least somewhat leashed.

    Going to be weird as hell seeing him in Ireland kit though.

  2. The more I think about this the better an idea it seems.

    Upside is that England’s defence (and Sarries before that, also 2013 Lions, all as per) has been very good in the past few years.

    The apparent downsides of AF’s tenure with England are possible nepotism (irrelevant for us), overpromotion of rugby league player(s) (almost negligible possible relevance for us), and that AF’s personality became so dominant that he got his way more often than not (is this really a problem with AF, or is it an issue with the people he was working with? Either way, I don’t expect Saint Joe will let anyone else make his decisions for him).

    All the stuff you mention about Irish attitudes to English rugby definitely have a certain truth to them, but AF is going to be our defence coach not Director of Rugby Philosophy so I’m not worried about that (also find it strange that he got blamed for any change in attacking approach, though that doesn’t mean it isn’t true).

    So… cautious optimism? Is that what I have? Time will tell but I think this is a decent bit of business. Much more worrying/interesting is what our playing panel is going to look like for the Six Nations – think this is potentially a big moment for the national team.

    • ORiordan

       /  January 7, 2016

      All the points you mention however are essentially matters of Farrell’s judgement so while these specific scenarios may not arise with Ireland, do they still raise questions about the quality of his overall judgement?

      Nobody gets it right all the time and the issue with England could have been that Lancaster was too weak and lacked experience to counter Farrell.

      If Joe is smart, he will realise that he won’t get it right all the time either so I’m sure he realises that he isn’t hiring a yes man.

    • ORiordan

       /  January 7, 2016

      I think the point about Farrell’s influence with England’s attack was rumoured to come from differences with Mike Catt who was responsible for attack. Catt’s attacking philosophy was based upon certain players, Farrell wasn’t happy with these players defensively, Farrell won the argument so the attacking approach changed as a result.

      • I’ll reply to both here. Think you make fair points, certainly I thought England’s biggest errors last calendar year were selectorial, and AF has to take some of the blame for that but, as you say, if we’re looking to appoint someone who’s never made a mistake then we need someone who’s never made a decision.

        The issues in your second post I think are just genuine selection calls. As it happens, I imagine I would have sided with Catt on that debate (which I’m guessing is Farrell/Barritt vs Ford/Not Barritt) but at least (any nepotism aside…) it’s an actual selection debate with pros and cons being measured.

        However, bad decisions made for bad reasons are just that, and it does appear at least that AF has some high profile clangers on his recent CV.

        So I don’t think this is magic stuff, but still think easily the most powerful factor is that we’ve brought in a defence coach whose teams are renowned for being very good in defence – bottom line, IMO. And as per my original post, I think we have some huge decisions to make in selection ourselves for the 6N that will underpin not just how forward looking we are (with respect to the modern concern of WC cycles) but also just exactly how we want to play our rugby… I think if everyone who ever posted under WoC picked a 45-man squad for the 6N there would be a massive variety and possibly no two squads exactly the same.

    • Good points, thanks Larry. It’s always difficult to ascertain who is responsible for what exactly but I’d be willing to believe Schmidt sits down with his coaches to pick the team and that Farrell will indeed have a say of sorts in selection.

      The bottom line I think is that Farrell will have team very focussed on aggressive line-speed. Ireland have never really operated a blitz-style defence before, so it will be interesting to see how it pans out.

      • Christiaan

         /  January 9, 2016

        From his background he will not accept slipped tackles and he will influence the attack which Burgess was brought in to do to set up first phase over the gain line which is his positional role in RL. Just hope he doesn’t pursue the same approach with big ball carriers of first phase or the squad will end looking like an episode of Mash. It will be interesting to see more RL back moves.

    • Well said Larry, I definitely agree that most of his perceived failings won’t be applicable to us. To be honest I’m just happy the position’s been filled. We could be quite mean under Kiss but all our performances in the WC were defensively awful. I was sitting high in the stands for the Italy, France and Argentina matches, and our defense was as narrow and poorly aligned in all 3, it’s just that Argentina were the only team we played that actually knew how to pass a ball and we were shown up big time as a result

  3. Api Pewhairangi for Ireland!

  4. D6W

     /  January 7, 2016

    Joe’s contract finishes in 2017, so interesting that we have signed a defensive coach to a contract that goes beyond the current head coach by 2 years. WHat if the next head coach doesnt like the cut of Farrell’s jib? One of the many issues with this appointment that I am having difficulty get my head around. But if BOD approves it, it must be a good thing.

    • One would imagine that if the appointment is that far-reaching Joe is sticking round for the full WC cycle. That said, there is precedent for a coach being inherited from the previous administration, Les Kiss being a case in point.

  5. This should be a good appointment. The only risk will be how much he influences albeit indirectly selection. Given that was the main media criticism of his tenure at England. Can see that he will be a big fan of a big back line so that should suit those bigger backs and the smaller more aggressive defenders. Assuming Madigan will remain in the Ireland setup at Bordeaux it will be interesting to see if Farrells namesake at Grenoble who fits his mould gets brought into camp. Most of all it will be interesting to who crosses codes next season to be eligible for the 2019 RWC.

  6. ruckinhell

     /  January 7, 2016

    I reckon Chris Farrell is frantically searching his family tree for connections to Faz Snr: “Hi Andy….No, don’t hang up….it’s your 4th cousin twice removed Chris Farrell! Yes, I do play rugby……. League experience? I did play a bit in the schoolyard back in the day…… About 6 foot 5 and 106 kgs…. no I don’t have his details but can send him a LinkedIn invite plus I don’t think he can play for Irel…….oh, you’ve organised a certificate of Irish Heritage and a court order expunging his England career from the legal records. You work quick cuz!….Right so, you want me to book two one way tickets to Dublin for myself and Brad Barritt? Roger that.”

    Joking aside, reckon it’s a good appointment as per all the reasons outlined by Larry M above.

  7. connachtexile

     /  January 7, 2016

    The man spent how many seasons analysing our team for strengths/weaknesses? So now that he’s our defence coach you’d imagine he’s going in with an interesting perspective of our foibles. He also worked with a lot of the Irish boys on the Lion’s tour who I’m sure were sounded out by Joe as to what they thought of him. Overall I’m content with the appointment. Personally I would have loved Kurt McQuilkin to have being offered the job (sorry Leinster fans) but Farrell isn’t a bad second.

    • Yossarian

       /  January 7, 2016

      Only issue i would have with McQuilkan is that he has worked a lot with the Leinster players already. I think post world cup we need some new voices in the coaching set up.

      McQuilkan seemed the obvious(easy?) choice to make. i think it shows how much Joe wants to be challenged within his own coaching set up that he has brought in farrell.

    • Peter Daly

       /  January 7, 2016

      McQuilkan will be a guy for the future. Seeing as he’s only just returned to Leinster it probably came around too soon this time.

  8. andrew097

     /  January 7, 2016

    A little underwhelmed but then I think the WC shows to be competative Ireland has to change but I,m not sure I see to much change in this.

  9. RWCm1

     /  January 7, 2016

    My son’s response was interesting – when I said “Have you heard who is the new Irish defence coach?”, he said
    “BOD? D’Arcy?” adding “You have to admit they do know about defending at the top-level”

    Defence was the Achilles heel in the QF, so a different perspective will be a good thing.

    In various English reports, (including Sunday Times 18 Oct) Farrell was bizarrely described as “Coach of Defence and First-phase attack” whereas as Mike Catt was “Multiphase attack coach”.
    I’ve not come across such a hybrid-role at this level before – it suggests more to do with someone wanting to extend their sphere of influence than a natural combination.

    After the 8-minute 22m siege defended by Australia in the game against Wales, I’d have preferred the Australian defence coach.

    That said, “In Joe we trust” still has some currency, so let’s see what happens.

    After Joe having made very clear in the past (to coaches & players) who runs the show (e.g. politely but very firmly to Matt O’Connor), I can’t see Andy Farrell getting a disproportionately loud say in matters.

  10. Peter Daly

     /  January 7, 2016

    Two posts in a week boys. What have we done to deserve this? Kudos to the team over there in WoC headquarters.

    I was shocked when I heard the news. I wonder was there any truth to the earlier Shaun Edwards talk or was this always the plan. Either way I’m intrigued by the appointment.

    A lot of the moaning seems to based on the fact a) he’s not Irish b) he was a bit domineering in his previous job and c) England played awfully rugby while he was there. I’ll hit all those points separately.

    A) George Hook has been waffling on about entrusting Irish rugby to a foreigner but where are the alternatives. He certainly doesn’t posit any. I’m not sure who runs the Munster/ Connacht defences as they don’t list particulars but I would assume it’s Foley as he’s previously done that job for Ireland. So that rules them out. Then Ulster and Leinster both have coaches who are less than a year in the job. So no again. O’Gara would be an option but he’s still learning the ropes and a few more years will serve him well. Jackman would be interesting but I think he’s only looking at HC gigs at this stage. Is there anyone else? I can’t think of any.

    B) Joe may put out a quiet, reserved face to the public but by all accounts he’s an incredibly strong personality and is very clear and confident in his idea’s and execution. He’s also incredibly secure in his job. Lancaster was a lame duck. He was totally out of his depth and despite being a great guy, spent his entire tenure second guessing himself. Of course someone like Farrell is going to hold sway in that scenario. He won’t get that rope in Ireland. But the good thing about having a guy like Farrell is that he won’t be afraid to voice his opinions. A new voice is always good especially when it comes from outside the system.

    C) England did play some dire stuff but their defence, for the most part, was very solid. Ireland had serious trouble breaking them down in the last few Six Nations and the France score fest aside they had one of the best defences. They’re defence also had relative success against the big three.

    So to surmise he’s a decent inside the box choice. I’m sure there would be more exciting under the radar guys out there but he’ll bring a new voice, has decent pedigree and it’ll be interesting to see how it pans out.

    • D6W

       /  January 7, 2016

      ROG as a potential defender coach????

      • Peter Daly

         /  January 8, 2016

        I know it sounds ridiculous given his prowess (or lack thereof) as a defender but he’s been coaching the Racing defence for a couple of years now and he’s pretty highly rated over there. I could be mistaken but his name was bandied about in the early stages of Les Kiss’ departure so I’m not the only one mad enough to think it.

        • D6W

           /  January 8, 2016

          I thought he was skills and kicking coach at Racing, at least that was his title when he started there.

          • He also moonlighted as defense in his first year, which they then made official in his second season. You can see him drilling players in defense in his RTE doc, which is still the most memorable moment for me. “REGARDÉ LA ATTACK”

      • Lop12

         /  January 8, 2016

        @D6W- Big difference between defending and tackling. he was a decent defender, and a shocking tackler. the fact he was such a good defender means the amount of times he was exposed as a poor tackler was relatively limited (apart from some v high profile examples) considering how many top level games he played. he was never hidden out on the wing like some no 10s I could think of!

        @PeterDaly- Ian Costello is the munster defence coach I believe, has the title anyways. Also skills and kicking coach. Says more about the penny pinching at Munster than it does about his ability to multi task across this massively wide range of coaching skills!!!!

        • D6W

           /  January 8, 2016

          “A decent defender, and a shocking tackler”. I don’t follow that. I know there is more to defending than simply tackling, such as being first in over the ball etc., but I don’t recall ROG doing any of that either. Please can you expand on what you mean and give examples involving ROG.

          Not trying to denigrate ROG here, he is an Ireland legend, and he may well be a good defence coach IE Not necessary to be able to do something yourself to know how it should be done.

          • Lop12

             /  January 8, 2016

            defending is about making sure the right people are in the right position to best defend the gain line (be that yourself or somebody else). The 10 is key to organization of that defence. Is he was a poor defender he would have been caught making many more of these tackles over these years and the “lowlights” reel would have been much longer.

            Making a decision to step in and make a tackle or not for example is a key element of defending. You step in ball is gone youv missed no tackle but made a poor defending decision and created an issue elsewhere.

            So IMVHO tackling is but one element of the defensive game. Forcing the opposition into making mistakes and play the game on your terms would I think be the core of most defensive systems; that’s not all about tackling.

          • D6W

             /  January 8, 2016

            @Lop12 So the fact he successfully ensure Wally and co. were in place to make his tackles for him makes him a good defender? No, not in my book. I will respectfully disagree with you on that one.

            Although it may well have given him a head start as a defence coach.

        • Peter Daly

           /  January 8, 2016

          Cheers for the info re Ian Costello Lop12. The Munster coaching ticket all have fairly vague titles!!

          Totally agree re ROG. He was a fairly poor tackler in terms of technique but what people tend to ignore is that he always manned his channel against much bigger men and as you point out the lowlight reel isn’t as extensive as people might think. And to quote Arrigo Sacchi “I didn’t realise to be a jockey you had to be a horse first”.

      • Not sure if Rog still has the skills and kicking portfolio at Racing but he’s definitely doing pretty well with the defence brief. They’re top of the league and reasonably defensively sound, 222 points conceded in 12 games (4th best in the league), including 16 tries (2nd best in the league). It’s very early days but I get the sense that he’s going to be an excellent coach, especially if he continues to challenge himself and take the road less traveled.

  11. This could be an acknowledgement by Saint Joe that we will never play an attacking game like NZ or Aus and therefore our most important skill will always be denying the other team opportunities.
    Farrell is as good a bet at achieving that as anyone else.

    Aindreas O’Fearghail has a good ring to it as well.

  12. L.P.O.

     /  January 14, 2016

    Not sure you are right to give credit to Farrell for the Saracens’ defensive success after his departure… sure was he not Skills Coach when the RFU called him up, rather than Defence Coach anyway???

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