EVOLVE, invent, embrace failure and become innovators rather than imitators.
With two games gone and two good victories stored away in the archives, should Andy Farrell be happy with his charge’s efforts or does he need to be ultra-cautious with England and France waiting in the long grasses?
For me, I am wedged firmly on the side where vigilance is required and the last thing on Farrell’s mind should be winning a championship or looking beyond the next 80 minutes.
Don’t get me wrong the two victories over Scotland and Wales were well deserved and all involved worked bloody hard to achieve them however, there are previous learnings that Farrell and his coaching ticket need to be reminded of if they are not to fall foul of the poison chalice that is linked with the Irish coaching position.
I once had a conversation with the late and great Anthony Foley and we spoke about the fickleness associated with coaching.
At this stage Axel was working with Munster but only in an assistance capacity and was doing well however, he was very quick to remind me that a clap on the back is only 12 inches away from a kick in the hole, (he had a great way with words). One day you’re the greatest thing since the slice pan and the next you’re the most hated man on the planet. Farrell should heed these words with much attentiveness.
These were wise words from a young man and little did he know back then how the cards he was dealt were going to fall. To this day I firmly believe that the stress and strain that he carried on his shoulders as head coach of Munster had something to do with his passing and Farrell also needs to keep this to the fore front of his mind.
As of yet I have never seen an Irish coach depart his role without some kind of controversy trailing behind him and in many cases, it destroyed their reputation and their chances of regaining employment in a similar position.
I think it would be fair to assume that everyone entangled with this current squad would have taken the hand off you if you had offered them the Scottish and Welsh scorelines before the competition kicked off and this is one of my concerns.
If we are apprehensive about teams like Scotland and Wales coming to Dublin and beating us, how are we going to travel to London and Paris and beat sides with a far greater pedigree then ours?
I fully realise we have gone to these cities in previous years and left triumphant however, if we are ever going to seriously challenge at the Everest of the game, we need to be playing a brand of rugby that is consistently proficient enough to easily dispense with any sides that come to the Aviva and then seriously challenge when we go abroad.
The key word here is consistently and unless we find a way to reach the levels delivered by New Zealand, we will always be a hit and miss nation that are celebrating one minute and drowning our sorrows the next.
One question I would love to have answered by the IRFU is how long do they think is needed to prepare a squad that is proficiently equipped to challenge for a World Cup title?
Up to now all attempts have fallen well wide off the mark and I am beginning to wonder if they even care about winning it because we had made a mess of it on so many occasions.
I would think that Farrell has been given a job description that reads something like this.
“Win all games, at all costs and don’t worry about anything else, best of luck” Apart from Philip Browne, a few solicitors and Farrell himself, nobody knows what goals are detailed in the contract the IRFU had Farrell sign and it is these details that will have a big say in how the former rugby league legend goes about fabricating and formulating his squads.
Under the guidance of Joe Schmidt Ireland produced a brand of rugby that was devised by a man who felt he needed to have complete control of everything that happened on the pitch however, that’s not how sport works and unless you are willing to change, develop, evolve and take risks you will always be found out and that is exactly what happened to Schmidt during the World Cup.
So far it seems that Farrell has adopted a very different approach and has given his primary play-makers a licence to go with their gut feelings.
Gone seems to be the blunt force approach of launching one out runners at brick wall oppositions and whilst we are still kicking away far too much possession, especially in the oppositions half of the field we are now seeing passages of play where our wingers are getting passed the ball.
Over the last few years the only way players like Earls, Stockdale and Conway got their hands on the ball was by chasing one of Conor Murray’s box kicks and contesting for it in the air.
As a nation we will never be strong enough to bully teams around the field and when we go up against England and France in the coming weeks you will see exactly what I mean because our forwards will not be able to produce the same amount of ball as they did against Scotland and Wales.
Farrell must devise a play book that is capable of instant change depending on who we are playing next and we cannot become branded as a forwards or backs dominated side.
The best example I could offer of this happening is Munster. When the Munster forwards were matched or bettered, their entire game plan exploded and look where that has left us now.
Our ability to keep the ball alive during tackle situations must be ingrained in every player on the pitch and our expectancy levels must reach that of sides whose only motto is to never be beaten.
Each and every time we enter the oppositions 22 and we have ownership of the ball the minimum return must register three, five or seven points on the score board. For the amount of possession and territory we had against Wales the game should have been a foregone conclusion long before the half time whistle and as I’ve stated already our scoring opportunities against England and France will be few and far between.
Not looking beyond the final game in this year’s Six Nations where we play the hapless Italians in Dublin, I don’t think we have evolved enough to win either of the next two clashes. However, I do not have an issue with this because I think Farrell is taking the correct approach by allowing his players to make their own decisions on the field.
After the players become accustomed to making their own evaluations of what they feel are the best options to take, the next job for Farrell is to encourage his players to take calculated risks that will keep opposing defences second guessing what is going to happen next.
These changes are not going to happen overnight and the culture that Joe Schmidt has left behind will take time before a new one overpowers it.
I mention risks above and the players are not the only ones who must be prepared to take them.
Player selection is going to be key for the immediate future of Irish rugby and it is imperative that Farrell is strong enough to promote the youth of today that will be representing us at the next World Cup.
In this country we always think that a promising young player needs another one- or two-years development before they are ready for the jump to the international level. Bollox to that. If he is good enough, he is old enough and looking at the current U20s I believe there are some who should be training with the senior boys on a regular basis.
This is a philosophy that also exists within our provinces and the sooner we cast it aside and allow the youth their opportunities to play at Champions Cup level the better and faster our game will become.
I’ll leave you with this question. Which would you prefer? To win the next four Six Nations in a row or bring home the William Webb Ellis trophy in four years time?
I know what I’d choose but in order to achieve either, we have to sacrifice one. The World Cup would be my choice.