The Mole wrote a series of bad-tempered pieces relating to the IRFU document regarding future policy towards non-Irish eligible [NIE] players before Christmas. Quite baleful [bile-fuelled?] stuff, actually, and not entirely concomitant with the holiday season. As a result, they never saw the light of day. UNTIL NOW … … no, really. Here’s all the views that are fit to print.
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If in the past the Mole has been guilty of presenting the IRFU as a thoughtful, inclusive and rational governing body, he would like to apologise. After all, this is the same organisation that launched a massive ticket price-hike in the middle of the worst recession in the history of the state, and signed Eddie O’Sullivan to a contract extension before the disastrous RWC07. Which was just a blip, lest we forget.
While the IRFU can’t compete with its esteemed older brother the RFU in terms of outright f*ckwittery and politicking, it can certainly make the effort. And it has!
Where do you even start?
Firstly, there is absolutely no appetite for this move amongst Irish rugby supporters. If a radical initiative like this had been proposed in the aftermath of RWC07, which was by any measurement a pretty spectacular failure, then it may have been more well-received.
As it is, most people were disappointed with being beaten so convincingly by the Welsh in the quarter final, but stoically took the defeat for what it was: being beaten by the better team on the day. While it was a significant let-down, there had been the enormous high of the win over Australia earlier in the tournament, and a very satisfactory victory over Italy in which we had dealt well with the usually uncomfortable position of being favourites.
Despite the shocking run of results in the warm-up games [four losses from four, with two of them qualifying for the abject variety], Declan Kidney had managed to assemble a squad that put together some very strong performances and claimed a huge Australian scalp: a stunning contrast to our typical World Cup performances, it should be acknowledged. Our final placing – between fifth and eighth in the world, with nothing much separating any of the teams in those grades – more or less reflects our standing in the world game.
However, it would seem that the IRFU have taken a different – and much harsher – stance. It’s reasonable to look at this directive as a response to the outcome of RWC11, coming as it does within three months of the tournament and before Ireland have played another game.
That the failure to get ‘over the line’ against Wales and achieve the stated goal of the IRFU strategy [i.e. getting to the semi-final] is seemingly been placed at the feet of the provincial set-ups rather than as a failure of the squad and management in a one-off game of knock-out rugby is – in the eyes of the Mole – erroneous. On the day, the Irish team were significantly out-coached and more marginally out-played by a talented Welsh outfit who were unfortunate not to make the final. That this loss came at the hands of a team with whom we have a 50/50 record since the last World Cup [see below] may be considered galling, but it should by no means come as a complete surprise.
- 08/03/08 Croke Park Ireland 12 – 16 Wales [Home Loss]
- 21/03/09 Millennium Stadium Wales 15 – 17 Ireland [Away Win]
- 13/03/10 Croke Park Ireland 27 – 12 Wales [Home Win]
- 12/03/11 Millennium Stadium Wales 19 – 13 Ireland [Away Loss]
Nor should the failure of the Irish team and coaching staff on the day be parlayed into an ill-founded, ill-argued ‘blame game’ that centres on the supposed inadequacies of player production in the provincial set-ups, rather than the more obvious and uncomfortable idea that a game between relatively evenly-matched teams was decided by a significant coaching coup overseen by a former IRFU employee [one Warren Gatland] over the current incumbent.
Are the IRFU seriously suggesting that Ireland lost because Isa Nacewa plays fullback for Leinster? Or because Pedrie Wannenburg plays for Ulster in the backrow? Or because Doug Howlett plays on the wing for Munster? It would seem that yes, they are.
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“… a successful Ireland team is the catalyst for success at all levels below that.”
Really? Ireland won three out of five games in the 2011 Six Nations and almost lost to Italy. Italy. I’m all for not underestimating teams, but that was very close to the worst start to a Six Nations in the professional era. That wasn’t a “successful” Irish team. How was it the catalyst for the successful Leinster team that won the Heineken Cup later that year?
If anything, going from a side that just scored eleven tries in their last two HEC group games [six vs Saracens in the RDS and five vs Racing in Paris] to an Irish side that played such an obviously sh*t brand of rugby for half the games of the Six Nations actively impeded Leinster’s success last season.
How was the absolute egg laid at RWC07 and the p*ss poor Six Nations that followed ‘a catalyst’ for Munster winning the Heineken Cup in 2008? If you’re going to say because national failure provoked provincial success, you work for the IRFU.
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Eddie Wigglesworth and Philip Browne seem to have missed the point of Ireland’s exit from RWC11 completely. We didn’t lose to Wales because Isa Nacewa plays fullback for Leinster; we lost because we were completely out-coached and more marginally out-played on the day. Do you think having a better sub prop on the bench is going to change the outcome of a 22-10 game where scrums were a non-issue for the vast majority of the match?
Would Ireland be in a stronger position if Leinster had persevered with Ronny McCormack, Royce Burke-Flynn and Stephen Knoop, or if Munster had just given Timmy Ryan or his brother whole tranches of gametime for them to get plowed backwards? Let me answer you that one: we would on our absolute b*llocks.
As for succession planning, it’s been going on right under the IRFU’s respective [sometimes gouty] noses:
Six Nations 2009 [RWC11] – bold denotes a different player
Horan 31 [Healy 23]; Flannery 30 [Best 29]; Hayes 35 [Ross 31]; O’Callaghan 30 [O’Callaghan 32*]; O’Connell 29 [O’Connell 31]; Ferris 23 [Ferris 26]; Heaslip 25 [Heaslip 27]; Wallace 32 [O’Brien 24]; O’Leary 25 [Murray 22]; O’Gara 32 [O’Gara 34]; Fitzgerald 21 [Earls 24]; D’Arcy 29 [D’Arcy 31*]; O’Driscoll 30 [O’Driscoll 32]; Bowe 25 [Bowe 27]; Kearney 23 [Kearney 25]
* Both of these players have been replaced in the starting HEC game line-up for their provinces in recent weeks by younger, Irish-qualified players: 28 year old Donnacha Ryan in for 32 year old O’Callaghan and 25 year old McFadden in for 31 year old D’Arcy. Oh, how did that happen? All the provinces want to do is pick foreign players and old guys, apparently.
There have been 6 long-term changes to the starting line-up in 30 months. Essentially, just under half the team has been turned around, and another three [O’Gara, O’Callaghan and D’Arcy] should – should, should, should – go within the next two/three months.
Nobody wants to see an international team that is consistently in flux. It simply doesn’t work.
The great Brian O’Driscoll is out for the season, so Kidney is finally forced to try somebody else in the No13 jersey. It’s extremely likely that we’ll be looking at 10 different players in the starting lineup in comparison to that which took the pitch against Wales less than three years ago.
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“We’re spending about €2.5m a year on our academy structures and they’re churning out players,” he says. “The worst possible scenario for us is that we have nowhere for those players to play because there are blockages in the system. So what we’re trying to do is loosen up some of those blockages without changing the whole system.”
Yes. You’ll have ‘nowhere for those players to play’. All those brilliant players you’re churning out will have nowhere to play, because about 24 [6 NIQ places per province] of approximately 160 [40 players per province] professional playing positions in Ireland are ‘blocked’. Thankfully, nobody gets injured in rugby. Ever. Surprisingly, no young player ever outperforms an older player and gets selected ahead of him. Far-sightedly, we never offer long-term national contracts to past-prime players. Critically, no player should ever leave the country to play in a different environment. What could he possibly learn? Who has ever benefitted from playing in a different league? Certainly not Mike Ross, Eoin Reddan, Tommy Bowe, Leo Cullen, Shane Jennings, Damien Varley etc.
“We’ve got to make sure that [decent coaches deciding not to come to Ireland because they don’t have any real say in who they can either pick or contract] doesn’t happen,” admits Browne. “Both ourselves and the provinces will have to sell the system that we have. The proof will be in the pudding.”
What’s this “we” talk, white man? The system that “we” have?
“We’ve got to make sure that doesn’t happen. Now, I haven’t actually thought about it at all, and there’s absolutely nothing in the document we’ve just released to counter-act the overbearing influence that the likes of myself and other under-qualified numpties will have on professional coaches but … eh, to sum up … eh, the proof is in the pudding.”
“If you sign off on a player as a number 15, but want to play him in any other position when there are no exceptional scenarios that warrant that, then you will not get permission,” explains Wigglesworth. “You’ll have to play him as a 15.”
So the provincial coaches will have to run every single team-sheet by some jobsworth in the union to see if that’s okay? Yep, first-rate coaches will be lining up at the door for a job where you don’t have final say on a single team selection you make.
“Let’s get things straight coach. It’s your job to coach the team, but it’s our job to stick our oar in and make things difficult for you. By the way, you have to select Mushy at loosehead today.”
“The provinces tend to look at things in two or three year blocks, whereas we look at the longer term and in terms of World Cup cycles. It just wasn’t a runner to leave things as they were, particularly with the challenges around succession planning in a number of positions on the field.”
We’re great forward-planners. That’s why we got Alan Gaffney as a backs coach after Leinster had hired him, and that’s why we took on Greg Feek as scrum-coach for the Irish team … eh, after Leinster had hired him. We forward-plan so well that we ignore things like enormous recessions that might have an impact on ticket prices, because in the grand scheme of things, all that will be forgotten.
It just wasn’t a runner to leave things the way they were, especially not after we had had our most successful World Cup ever and had seen one of the provinces win the Heineken Cup in tremendous fashion, and another win the Magner’s League in record-breaking style. No, things were going too well, so we decided to try and step in and, y’know, f*ck things up a little.