Give it a Lash, Joe!

For the first time in a long time I was excited about an Irish team being picked. My anticipation of the weekend is very different than what I expected of matches under recent regimes.

Declan Kidney reminded me of a gnome, playing a straight bat to every question, giving nothing away with one banality after another. Watching Noel King’s outburst after the Kazakh game reminded one that it is often better to say nothing of interest when the cameras are rolling and passions are high so the rationale behind Kidney’s stance was understandable if tedious.

Through all of this one belief of Kidney’s became clear: the next match was always the biggest one. “Everybody will take a look at it and then move on to the next one.” Every game Ireland played was his cup final and it seemed to wear him and the team down. If only he’d have his first choice team available then things would have been different; how dare Rodge and the Bull get old?!

While Kidney played Dorian Gray with his Grand Slam team, the pressure mounted and Tommy Bowe revealed that “Going into that Argentina game [in 2012] wasn’t really the best place to be. We felt under a lot of pressure but pulled out a big performance that day.”

A change is as good as a rest and Joe Schmidt is a different interview than Kidney with a good bit more chat in response to most questions. Schmidt’s modus operandi is absolute rather than relative. His players tell of exacting standards in match reviews but he seems less defined by the result than other coaches. Eventually he will be judged on results as all coaches are but this job doesn’t seem like it defines him as it did both Kidney and O’Sullivan.

What Schmidt wants from his team is “A little bit of cohesion. A little bit of clarity. A priority list of what we must do, of what we would like to be able to do and what would be a bonus, and we’ll try to focus on what are the real key things for us. A big part of that is being very collective in whatever we do.”

There is a sense of purpose to everything Schmidt asks and his selections throughout his time at Leinster were excellent, particularly when taken as a whole. Schmidt managed to maintain Leinster’s competitiveness while mixing squad members and first team players. He picked certain players to play a certain type of game and developed a strong, content squad.

His first Ireland team sees form players picked in their preferred position with strength and experience on the bench. My hope is that this first match of Schmidt’s regime sees Ireland play with a purpose that reflects the talent available. My next hope is that consistency is added to that purpose over the months that follow.

What I really want to see is an Irish team play in a style that not only suits the players but gets the country excited. Lansdowne Road has been a mausoleum for much of the time since redevelopment with a long series of matches played out against the backdrop of recession and turgid, uninspiring fare often served up. There has been the odd occasion when the place has rocked, notably the English game in 2011 when there was an air of anticipation before kick-off and a cracking atmosphere throughout. Ireland started that game fast out of the traps and kept the foot down for most of the game; the crowd responded.

Sean O’Brien said that Schmidt “doesn’t just bollock you out of it, he wants to correct you and make you better. We want to play a real fast game and keep things as simple as possible.” This sounds to me like Mick Doyle’s mantra of “Give it a Lash”. That’s what I want from Ireland and I don’t think I’m on my own. Let ‘em loose, Joe!

11 thoughts on “Give it a Lash, Joe!

  1. Mole didn’t Mick Doyle deliver a triple crown in his first championship (we won’t mention the two that followed). Are you predicting the same of Joe in terms of delivering something in the 6 nations are you a bit like Paul Merson in refusing to make predictions?

  2. It’s a bit early for too many comparisons between Deccie and Joe but one thing that I am hopeful about is his apparent engagement with the provincial system and their apparent willingness to engage with him (at least from an Ulster perspective, I lack enough nous about the other provincial squads to comment with conviction).

    Case in point would be the selection of Ulsters back-line this season – the casual observer has made much of Olding and Gilroy playing full back but that’s to miss the key – both times Jared Payne played 13. Ulster are well served at both full back and outside centre and made no attempt to recruit from outside or inside their own club in either position this year so I’d imagine that Joe is seriously looking at his options at 13 for the future.

    It’ll come as no great shock to readers of this blog to see Payne considered at 13 – the idea has been doing the rounds within more enlightened (or at least more involved) Irish rugby circles for a while but what is refreshing is to see that the experiment isn’t being carried out at the Aviva in an international against a Teir 1 nation.

    You get the impression that there is a much greater degree of foresight and utilisation of the resources available in this regime which is a refreshing alternative to criticising the provinces for being successful!

      • Well yes but the impression I get is that we are trying it out now rather than wait until Payne qualifies and BOD retires and that is refreshing.

  3. Schmidt isn’t a give it a lash kind of guy. He’s a Bill Walsh (49ers legendary coach). It’s not that his ideas are especially complicated, it’s that executing them with precision creates opportunities to exploit fleeting gaps.

    Walsh had his receivers run route of exact distances. Run 10 yards and hook to the left, had to be that distance, not 8 yards, not 12 because the timing would be off and the receivers would be looking for the ball in the wrong places (which might be too close to a defender or in a blocked passing lane) or the quarterback would have already been sacked.

    The whole system only works if it’s done precisely.

    Kidney wasn’t a 100% every game coach. He was very up and down at times. He picked the same team for the big matches until players were flogged and his big days happened when the team went out and smashed the opposition in ways were the tactics weren’t so important in the overall scheme.

    i.e. we beat England in 2011 not because they played the wrong tactics, we just upped our performance across the board. This is the sort of thing that Schmidt doesn’t want. He needs to get us to get away from that type of thinking.

    What marked the Kidney era was the way that he had teams highly prepared before kick-off and how badly we responded to teams adapting to us mid-game. Schmidt can turn things around at halftime, Kidney rarely could. There was a shot during the Samoa game where I saw Les Kiss talking to Joe. Seemed like he was talking alot. It’s funny but I remember it being different under Kidney even though it didn’t really occur to me at the time.

    • There’s a lot here.
      Bill Walsh is a very good comparison to Joe Schmidt and the routes to system description hits the nail on the head. Walsh, like Schmidt, was a control freak who was not only Head Coach of the Niners but also GM, a highly unusual move at the time. It’s the sort of thing that Al Davis would do!
      I read a comment on Green and Gold years ago that appears as a comment from Peter Ransen in this piece
      I like the idea of O’Connell going effing bananas and putting the fear of God into people as a counterpoint to Schmidt’s cerebral style. Walsh, for all his meticulous planning, had Joe Cool – aka David W Gibson – at quarterback and traded for the likes of Hacksaw Reynolds and drafted Ronnie Lott.
      As far as comparisons to Kidney go, I’m pleased to see Reddan and Sexton paired together. The two best performances of Kidney’s last three seasons (20-8 v England, 15-6 v Australia) saw Reddan and Sexton start at half back. They also started against SA and NZ at home in 2010 and we lost both.
      I thought Kidney prepared Ireland very well against Wales for last season’s Six Nations but, as you say, we fell over the line after getting beat soundly in the second half and that was it for the Championship. He was able to come with a plan to win particular games but there never seemed to be a philosophy or system to his game.
      As far as Schmidt goes, my comparison for his Leinster team was the Spanish football team; they could pass really well, they kept the ball as a means of defence, they were technically and tactically sound and they could on occasion be boring to watch. I’m very interested to see what he does with Ireland, particularly in the RWC. Ireland could play a well oiled, cohesive game and get to the semis but not win it because there are other teams that play that game better. Or we could have our basics down and an appreciation of how to switch between game plans, one of which would be going bananas and pulling out an heroic performance in a huge match. It’s an approach that has got France to finals and almost won it for them in 2011. They’ve never got over the line but I think it’s our best shot.

      • Hacksaw literally lived up to his nickname, but he was absolutely methodical in his preparation and analysis. He was right up the front of team meetings with a pile of sharpened pencils and his analysis done. He was ready to call the coaches out.

        O’Connell is the same. He’s seen as intense and manic, but he watches a lot of video and plans his conditioning.

        Lott was famous for his crunching hits (even among groups themselves notorious for it), but it would be churlish to focus too much on that aspect of his game. It’s akin to dismissing Nacewa as a big hitting Pacific Islander.

        Walsh was most famous for his offense (and from a play design POV, that’s fair), but he was far more philosophical and strategic than just some guy who was good at designing plays and knowing when to use them.

        His defense was based on an idea he’d developed from his boxing days (and like his offense, was developed before he got to the 9ers): beat them to the punch. Quicker boxers punch slightly earlier than their slower opponents. In the early rounds that doesn’t usually mean something, but it takes it’s toll. In the later rounds the slower fighter’s punches start getting later and later.

        Lott and Nacewa weren’t big guys, but they got in quick enough so that the collision was more on their terms.

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