Shifting Landscape

Peter O’Reilly reported a few interesting quotes in one of his pieces at the weekend. Both were from Leinster men and both reinforced a point that the Mole has held since hearing proposals that Joe Schmidt turn up at Irish sessions and run the lads through a few moves.

First up is Greg Feek, talking about his decision to concentrate on his Leinster coaching duties at the expense of his work with the national team: “Personally, it was something like 46 games in 12 months last year and that’s a lot. I felt and Leinster felt that you need to get some continuity, and doing the week in, week out with Leinster and growing your coaching is something I thought would be beneficial for me.”

The reason this struck a chord in particular is that a number of voices in the media have been calling for Joe Schmidt to become involved with the national team. Most prominent among them have been Tony Ward and Keith Wood and the argument runs along the lines of a) Joe Schmidt is a good backs coach b) Ireland’s backs don’t play particularly well when coached by Declan Kidney c) Joe Schmidt is paid by the IRFU so wouldn’t it make sense for him to show up and give the lads a few moves to run through.

Over the last decade or so, many voices have exhorted people to ‘think outside the box’ because that, it seems, is where good ideas come from. I’m happy to do my thinking inside the box on this one. Joe Schmidt has a job, it’s coaching Leinster. It’s a time consuming, stressful job and he doesn’t need any distractions from it. While the IRFU pay him, they pay him to coach Leinster, not to roam the land spreading the gospel of slick passing and correct alignment.

Brian O’Driscoll then has a quote about the national team’s requirements, particularly in relation to attack. It sounds that Joe’s voice would help matters, but not in the current set up.

“We just need to get clarity on who the point of reference is for our attacking game. In New Zealand, we could have gotten our detail a little better. We’ve got to look at making sure that everyone is getting the same message. But, when you have Declan overseeing things, Les [Kiss] doing the backs, Gert doing the forwards and Les also doing defence and you want to ask a particular question about an area of general attack, there’s a number of different people that you could go to there. One thing I’ve learned is that you can get away with certain things at provincial level. But your detail has to be very, very accurate at international level. Otherwise you get shown up.”

There’s no surprise in what O’Driscoll says, it’s the same thing as many commentators have been claiming for months now. The surprise is that he said it. O’Driscoll’s surgery seemed to go extremely well last season and while the Lions series is definitely on his radar, it is possible that he has set his sights beyond that and is considering extending his career as his mind and body allow. In that light, his fortunes are in many ways tied to the national coaching panel and if they’re not going to provide the right environment for him, the King of Irish rugby will have to seek and exert his influence.

Which brings me to the second point of the ill-considered Joe’n’Deccie campaign. What would happen if Schmidt were to show up and become the dominant voice in the squad sessions? Why would Kidney be required and why wouldn’t Schmidt take over the national team and leave Leinster? It doesn’t seem to me to be a story with a happy ending and its one best left untold.

Besides that, Schmidt has problems of his own right now. A combination of injuries, uninspiring signings and national call ups has led to another slow start for Leinster. While this has been a feature of his tenure, it can’t be assumed that everything will just work out. A few weeks ago, we wrote about the fact that it wasn’t good that Connacht packed less punch than Leinster’s 2.5 team. Direct comparison proved that wasn’t the case and the 34-6 drubbing experienced in the west must have caused some second thoughts about a number of players’ ability to perform at the top level.

Leinster miss the ball carrying of Sean O’Brien and the decision making of Eoin Reddan and Isaac Boss. Their Heineken Cup pool contains difficult games against Llanelli and Clermont and the match against Munster is significant for both teams as Penney and Schmidt lock horns for the first time in Northern Hemisphere competition.

Munster ‘s ongoing transition will benefit from Rob Penney’s influence and he looks a good choice as coach. The initial reaction to his style of rugby has been positive but a loss against Leinster, on the back of another defeat to the Ospreys, will cause jitters among the Munster faithful leading into the Heineken Cup. To date, Keatley has looked assured at ten but if Munster lose to Leinster, the clamour will be for O’Gara to start the big game: the old dog for the hard road.  How does that compromise Penney, who at some stage will have to make a decision on O’Gara as his pivot?

On the other hand, should Leinster lose at home to Munster, attention will be drawn to cracks in the European champion’s armour, be they real or imagined. Comparisons will be made with Ulster, bulwarked by a strong set of overseas players, with Ruan Pienaar set to be reintroduced upon conclusion of the Championship. Tommy Bowe looks set to get into double figures this season while Jared Payne is an exciting addition. In much the same manner as last year though it is John Afoa who is the main man for Ulster. His presence reduces the opportunity for Irish tight heads but is vital for Ulster. Leinster v Munster may be the biggest game in the league but it is the northern province that is setting the pace.

Competition for the top four will be strong this year and one of Ulster, Munster, Leinster, Llanelli and Ospreys will definitely lose out. The Dragons comprehensive victory against Edinburgh, Connacht’s trouncing of Leinster and Treviso’s turning over of Llanelli indicates that the Rabo has a higher level of competition than it is sometimes given credit for. There will be a few twists and turns to this season.

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15 thoughts on “Shifting Landscape

  1. I know this is going to sound crazy but why not Eddie O’Sullivan as backs coach? OK I know I’m gonna get pillored for this comment but can the respective ego’s ie Deccie & Eddie collaborate on the national sides interest? Eddie would be chomping at the bit his talents as a back coach are being wasted.

    • This is simply never going to happen, remember this was tried before and it was disastrous, with Deccie leaving Eddie’s Ireland set up within a very short space of time. I’d say Deccie would rather eat his own offspring than let Eddie back in. Can’t see Eddie wanting anything to do with the either..

  2. Hope my g+1 reaches a wider audience, this is one blog more irish rugby fans should read and keep an eye on for its understanding and insight into the development of the game

    • Also you never get the mindless venom or verbal posturing, just sensible opinions and observations. When I found it i read every article that day…and failed a midterm the next..

  3. Bringing in Joe Schmidt as some kind of consultant/auxiliary coach makes for a nice simple soundbite but even a moments consideration leads to the conclusion that neither party could really want that situation to arise.

    From Schmidt’s perspective, he already has a full-time job. It’s not as if he’s spending his days watching Jeremy Kyle once the Autumn Internationals or Six Nations kick into gear-he still has a team to coach. He also happens to be very successful in his job. The idea of throwing his lot in with a coaching ticket that’s increasingly embattled would hardly seem appealing. And if his efforts with Ireland proved ineffectual, its an unnecessary stain on his reputation.

    From Kidney’s perspective, if Schmidt turned Ireland’s fortunes around it just makes him look redundant and his position even less tenable.

    • Are the calls for Schmidt to join the Irish set up really code for let’s slip a competent coach into the national team and if/when Ireland suddenly start playing well our next coach will already be familiar with the set up and ready to push on to even greater levels after Kidney is asked to step aside? Thornley is certainly very scared of the idea of Schmidt showing up Kidders faults and was almost insulting towards Schmidt at times on that off the ball podcast last week. Also reading the situation in these terms brings to mind how Eddie took over from Gatland….

      • There’s still really no reason for Schmidt to want to get involved with the Irish set-up right now. This is his third season in Ireland and he’s coaching a large number of the Irish squad. He’s plenty familiar with the way things work here, at this stage.

        Continuity between coaching tickets can be a great thing with a successful group, look at New Zealand and the moment. But when the things haven’t been going well (and seem to be deteriorating) a clean break would probably be best. I don’t think anyone really believes Kidney will get a contract extension so if Schmidt (anybody else for that matter) is interested in taking over it would probably be best for everyone that he does so at a distance from the current regime.

  4. O’Driscoll has hinted at a lack of clarity in the setup regarding the ownership of the attacking game, defense game etc. Who do you go to if you have a question about X? Perhaps this is an issue with the style of coach that Kidney is. He has never really been a coaches coach more a man manager. He is not an expert in back play or forward play. If you look at the Provinces they have head coaches who are experts in some facet of the game. They then have delegates who are experts in the remainder. Unfortunately Ireland do not have this luxury. Kidney for me is more director of rugby material.

    Keeping his job is obviously high on his priority list, which will look after itself if Ireland start to play good winning rugby. Kidney is no fool and I would hope it is obvious to him that in order to achieve that, Ireland need an attack coach. This is no slight on Les Kiss, he is a damn fine defense coach and for all I know he is a damn fine attack coach but both he is not. With all that said I wonder is it really Kidney’s choice not to bring in an attack coach, or the IRFU? After all, if the team couldn’t afford to stay an extra day after the third test in New Zealand it is not beyond the realms of possibility that Kidney doesn’t have a choice on the matter.

    • I wouldn’t read too much into the comments about the lack of clarity in the attacking game, as not only did O’Driscoll miss all of Ireland’s 6Ns training camp, he had a new backs coach as well as fairly limited playing time last season. It simply could be he isn’t totally up to speed on everything just yet or that hopefully Sexton is taking more ownership in directing the attack.

      I saw elsewhere that Feek is taking over the defence portfolio for Leinster as well. He is badly needed there.

  5. Is it more a case that the current Irish set up in currenltly under resourced?
    In a quick comparison with the Wales Grand Slam backroom team you will can immediately see the areas where Wales have allocated additional specialist resources, the main areas being;

    1. Attack Coach.
    2. Scrum coach
    3. 2 additional strength and conditioning coaches.
    4. 1 additional analyst.
    5. 2 additional on the medical including a sports scientist.

    At international level where O’Driscoll maintains lack of detail will be you’re undoing we are lacking in the critical areas. Maybe we are too obsessed here with finding a solution that we haven’t analysed the problem in sufficient detail?

    When is Kidneys contract up? Should it be the end of this year I would look at how Robbie Deans is faring out in Aus and if he’s on the market pay what it takes to bring him in.

    • That’s a damn fine post. I’m not sure who selects the make up of the backroom team. If it’s Kidney then he has too much say. If it’s the IRFU then they are being neglectful of the structures necessary for a successful national team. Either way, the national team seem ‘lacking in the critical areas’.

    • Just shows how very very far behind we were last year if other teams have not just one but two strength and conditioning coaches and Ireland had none for the length of the six nations.

  6. A good post as always Mole. No simple solutions though.
    However, think of it from another perspective, what do you need to analyse / prepare now for games against SA and Argentina – the patterns those teams played in the Championship, or Ireland’s lack of finishing ability in NZ and our porous defence in the 1st and 3rd Tests?

    The Blacks have since proved that, on song and they usually are for at least 50 minutes, nobody can defend against them. On the other hand, Argentina, save for 20 minutes against the ‘Boks in their home test, have very little significant attacking ability and the best of SA’s attack revolves around the quality of ball that their monster pack provides for their new half-backs and Brian Habana.

    Can anybody coach our pack to get anything like parity against either of these teams? If they can, I believe that a backline of Kearney, Bowe, BOD, Darce (or McFadden), Earls, Sexton & Reddan can certainly recall enough back-line expertise to beat both with ball in hand – even if they only have 2 or 3 sessions together.

    The big challenge for Ireland coaching at the moment is our pack, not our backline. Get that right and much of the current discussion will have evaporated come 6N time.

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