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!