The road to being canonised in the Catholic faith goes through Servant of God, Venerable, Blessed before arriving at Saint. Two miracles must have been performed through the Saint’s intercession.Leinster’s comeback against Northampton in Cardiff is a miracle probably best categorised quoad subiectum: the sickness is judged incurable but not only is complete recovery noticed, there may be wholesale reconstitution of the organs. Schmidt now preaches to a broader church and had Ireland beaten NZ, his second miracle would have been achieved in swift time.
The gospel according to St Joe now dominates discussion of Irish rugby and was immediately apparent in the preferred circular of the faithful in a letter from the high priest, Dexy’s. “Given the three month hiatus since the heartbreaking defeat to New Zealand, there shouldn’t really be a hangover, but whether Ireland can replicate the accuracy and precision along with the emotional intensity for this Sunday afternoon kick-off is another matter.” That’s two of the pillars of the gospel right there, we can add [intense] competition for places in the weeks to come which conveniently lends itself to references about sacred cows to continue the religious metaphors.
If you’re like me you’ve probably found that you’ve been using the words “accuracy”, “precision” and “emotional intensity” when talking about rugby teams in the last few months. Welcome to the Schmidt Era. These words have become something of a mantra and can be applied when discussing the performance of any team.
Irish rugby has never had a figure like Schmidt before and his open message will change the way the game is discussed around the country. In an earlier piece we noted how Schmidt is an absolutist rather than a relativist but it’s important to note that he’s not rigid in how different positions should be played and seems capable of bringing the best out of players under his charge. This is an invaluable skill for a coach as it goes beyond merely technical detail and instead inspires a belief and a loyalty that NZ players had for Graham Henry or Wales have for Warren Gatland.
The following is an excerpt from a comment I read on Green and Gold about Rod MacQueen’s coaching style compared to Eddie Jones’ a few years ago and which can be found here. Take it away Peter Ransen:
“There seems to be the idea though that the more you break it up and analyze it the more effective it will be; but it is only winningly effective if it acts as a unit.
In fact, the process of breaking the unit up to make each individual role more effective, as a focus of development, actually harms its essential oneness. It’s a matter of where the coaching focus is.
My point with MacQueen is that he focused on the ‘champion’ within each player, and all his deci-sions and actions as a coach, every relationship he built, all of it, grew from that ‘champion’, ‘win-ning’ point. The natural flow of human spirit towards group success picks up and binds the individual requirements of each player’s role as part of that process. This is different from breaking up the roles and focusing on them in order to develop a successful cohesion.”
So while Schmidt is a repetition man, building up his team’s collective muscle memory, Sunday’s display indicates that he goes further than that and is able to concentrate on an individual’s particular strength’s, his champion winning point, and get him playing as well as he can. Two performances in particular stood out for me against Scotland, those of Peter O’Mahony and Andrew Trimble. This blog was fond of questioning O’Mahony’s bona fides as a test blindside and was often frustrated by his positioning in wide areas where he could build up impressive stats without making a significant impact. Against Scotland O’Mahony had a super game at the breakdown, winning three clean turnovers while at set pieces he was Ireland’s primary defensive jumper against Scotland’s lineout. It appears now that O’Mahony’s positioning on the flanks during the previous regime was a matter of simply following orders.
O’Mahony’s substitution on Sunday indicated that he is one of Schmidt’s prefects who was being preserved for the Wales game in six days’ time. Trimble on the other hand did not make the squad for the November series and was a surprise selection for this game. The exclusion of Zebo and the continued absence of Bowe seemed to have robbed Ireland of their cutting edge while injury to Luke Fitzgerald only compounded matters. None of this seemed to matter on Sunday as Trimble scored a try and produced one of his finest displays in a green shirt and probably the best performance in the breakdown of any Irish winger. That’s right, the breakdown. Trimble hit a lot of rucks and hit them with missionary zeal. While Bowe and Zebo are sharper finishers with more rounded footballing skills neither of them hit with anything like the theologian’s vigour.
Is that what you want your wingers doing? Well, it depends who your wingers are, grasshopper. From a coaching point of view, getting players to play to their strengths, building their confidence and the team’s efficacy in the process is akin to alchemy.
As the second half progressed, the game the team played resembled Schmidt-ball more and more. They passed really well, they kept the ball as a means of defence, they were technically and tactically sound and they were solid rather than spectacular. And then, when the opposition were worn down an offload would be made, a gap would appear and through that hole would pour the runners. The players have a belief in the system and are developing a feel for how to exploit it.
It’s worth again going back to Schmidt’s own words on what he wants from his team because the message is consistent: “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.”
Accuracy and precision, emotional intensity, internal competition and being very collective in whatever we do. Go forth and spread the word.