Yesterday, the IRFU held a meeting with a group of handpicked journalists to deliver their verdict on Ireland’s Rugby World Cup campaign.
The result according to the IRFU was that Ireland failed to evolve a game plan, failed in performance due to anxiety, had poor preparation ahead of the tournament and had a skills deficit compared to the world’s best teams.
All of which appears to have been placed on head coach Joe Schmidt, who stepped aside following the conclusion of the tournament.
The conclusion of where the team failed was reached by IRFU high performance director David Nucifora, who interviewed coaches and staff, while an independent body held discussions with the players, with all roads leading to the four failings mentioned above.
Schmidt, who took over as head coach in 2013, a year before Nucifora took his role with the IRFU, is becoming the sole person responsible for the team’s failure, but is that fair?
Yes, Ireland appeared to be stuck playing the same game-plan as their impressive 2018 campaign, which saw them defeat all before them, which is a failure to evolve, but Schmidt had a full team of back-room staff, were they not capable of coming up with a different plan? Or were the players themselves unable to use their own initiative to bring forward a case of how they should play to Schmidt?
In terms of performance anxiety, these are international stars, playing on the biggest stage in European rugby for their provinces on a regular basis. Some criticized Schmidt for not rotating the team enough, but that meant that the same players where playing on the international stage for Ireland on a regular basis too, why are they anxious?
These are the cream of the crop in Ireland, players that have won Champions Cups and PRO14 titles with their clubs, Six Nations titles and Grand Slams with Ireland, winning series tours with their country and some have even represented the British and Irish Lions on the grand stage. Why are they anxious and what does it have to do with Schmidt?
Schmidt is a man renowned for his tactical and thorough preparation, looking at teams inside out to find their weaknesses and looking at his own team to find their strengths so what changed this year from a man that admitted his only regret when leaving the job was the fact that he only took one day off in six years.
The team had played together many times before, went on training camps weeks before the tournament in Japan, including hot-weather camps to prepare for the soaring temperatures and humidity, and played pre-World Cup warm-up games. So why weren’t they prepared and once more how is Schmidt to blame?
Lastly, a lack in skills, an area were former players have noted Ireland failed to capitalise on during the past year. Some pointing towards Leinster’s style of play and asking why players weren’t following that example.
It is true that Schmidt prefers a risk-free game, but surely once on the pitch, the players must use their initiative when opportunities arise, and play expansive rugby when the chances come if that’s how to win a game of rugby.
Schmidt may have asked them to be more careful, but it is up to the players on the pitch to seize a game by the scruff of the neck and create openings. It seems unlikely that Schmidt would have argued with his players if they made it further in the World Cup by taking more of a risk.
The four areas where Ireland failed to seem to be somewhat of the overall problem, and it would be foolish not to place some of the blame on the head coach, but it seems strange and even more foolish to pile the sole blame on him.
There was a group of staff and players that prepared and went to Japan, a group of talented individuals, if Schmidt was falling short they should have been able to point it out and take it upon themselves to help solve the issues at hand.
May the environment had gone stale after six years of the same routine, may the players needed more of a challenge, but what appeared to happen this year more than before was the players looked to lack motivation and desire in the green jersey, and that is on them no matter who tries to cover it up.
While others find it easy to point the finger of blame to a man no longer associated with the IRFU, a look in the mirror may be a good idea. Afterall, if Schmidt was the problem then questions may be raised as to why it is his former right-hand man becoming Ireland’s head coach. Hopefully exciting times lie ahead under Andy Farrell, but don’t be surprised if more of the same is to follow.
Four years ago Ireland were trounced in the quarter-finals of the World Cup by Argentina, in between then they arguably became the best team in the world under Schmidt, before being trounced again by the All Blacks at the same stage of the competition. The hope will be that Farrell can produce something others have failed to in the Irish hot-seat, but a review of a tournament isn’t what will help, a review of the system is needed and each member involved with Ireland’s failings should hold their hand up for the failure, because one man isn’t the only person at fault.
Sean O’Brien to retire from rugby
London Irish can confirm Seán O’Brien is set to retire from rugby at the end of the 2021/22 season.
The back-row forward will bring a storied 14-year career to a conclusion this summer after two-and-a-half years with the Exiles.
O’Brien spent eleven seasons with his home province of Leinster, winning four Pro12/ Pro14 league titles, four Heineken Cup/ Champions Cup honours and an Amlin Challenge Cup, whilst also earning the ERC European Player of the Year accolade in 2011.
He was capped 56 times for Ireland between 2009 and 2019 and represented the British and Irish Lions on two tours, firstly to Australia in 2013 and then to New Zealand in 2017.
O’Brien joined London Irish in December 2019 and has played a vital part across three successful seasons in west London, becoming a fan favourite amongst the Exile Nation.
On his decision to retire, O’Brien stated: “After much deliberation and consultation with my family and friends, I can confirm that I have decided to retire from playing professional rugby at the end of the season.
“I’ve had an incredible career and am thankful for every second of my time at Leinster, Ireland, London Irish and the British & Irish Lions.
“As a 20-year-old, I fulfilled my childhood dream by pulling on the Leinster jersey, and when I made my debut against Cardiff Blues in 2008, I never imagined what would then follow over the next 14 years.
“A special mention must go to Colin McEntee for his ‘big brother’ approach when I joined the academy.
“I feel lucky to have experienced so many wonderful highlights over the course of my career.
“At an international level, I feel privileged to have won 56 caps for Ireland.
“I gave everything I could possibly give, and I will always look back with great pride at every time I pulled on the Irish jersey to represent my country, my county, my friends, and family.
“I feel very fortunate to have had the career I’ve had but none of it would have been possible without the support of so many people.
“Firstly, I would like to thank my Mam and Dad for taking me to Ballon Rathoe Community Games and then Tullow RFC when I was 8 years old.
“They took me to every sport in my area which gave me the exposure to all types of sport.
“They were the perfect role models who taught me to not be afraid of hard work, which certainly helped me progress my career and I can’t thank them enough.
“I was lucky to play alongside some great players and under some brilliant managers and coaches during my time at Tullow, Leinster, Ireland, London Irish and the Lions and I would like to thank every one of them.
“I would also like to thank the backroom staff at each of those clubs, they all showed me fantastic support during my time with them.
“I would like to say a special thank you to some people who believed in me early on in my career, who are sadly no longer with us.
“Jim Kealy (Tullow RFC) and David Wilkie (Edenderry RFC) always said the right thing to me and gave me direction when needed.
“Away from rugby, I feel lucky to have had such a close group of friends that I have always been able to count and rely on throughout the course of my career.
“Thanks to all of you, especially James Foley and Daniel Davey.
“Finally, the most important thank you is reserved for my family.
“I can’t thank my Mum, Dad and brothers (Stephen and William) sisters (Caroline and Alex) enough for their unconditional support over the years.
“It has meant everything to me and to have 6 nephews watching means the world to me.
“There is still a lot of rugby to be played this season before the time comes to hang up my boots, and I am fully focused on giving my all in the London Irish jersey until then.
“I’m going to soak up every minute I get on the pitch and look forward to helping the team wherever I can.
“I am excited about the future and feel I still have a lot to offer the game, in whatever capacity that may be.
“I am currently taking my time to consider a number of options and will make an announcement with regards to the next stage of my career very soon.”
Ryan And Baird Ruled Out Of Scotland Game. 2 called up.
The Ireland squad returned to Dublin on Saturday evening following the victory over England at Twickenham and reassembled at Carton House on Sunday evening.
James Ryan will not be considered for selection this week and his return to rugby protocols will be supervised by the Leinster Medical Team. Ryan Baird is ruled out of the final fixture of the 2022 Guinness Six Nations with a back issue.
Uncapped locks Ross Molony and Joe McCarthy have been called up to train with the squad. Ross has been involved in Ireland squads since the summer of 2021 while Joe, a former Ireland U20 player, made his Leinster debut against Cardiff in January having impressed for Dublin University in the Energia AIL.
Robert Baloucoune, Nick Timoney and Mike Lowry all return after lining out for Ulster in the URC against Leinster at the weekend.
Ireland play Scotland in the final round of the 2022 Guinness Six Nations Championship on Saturday 19th March at 4.45pm. The game is being televised by Virgin (ROI) and ITV (NI).
Ireland Squad Round 5 2022 Guinness Six Nations Championships
Bundee Aki (Connacht/Galwegians) 36 caps
Robert Baloucoune (Ulster/Enniskillen) 2 caps
Joey Carbery (Munster/Clontarf) 31 caps
Jack Carty (Buccaneers/Connacht) 11 caps
Craig Casey (Munster/Shannon) 5 caps
Andrew Conway (Munster/Garryowen) 30 caps
Jamison Gibson Park (Leinster) 16 caps
Mack Hansen (Connacht) 3 caps
Robbie Henshaw (Leinster/Buccaneers) 56 caps
James Hume (Ulster/Banbridge) 3 caps
Hugo Keenan (Leinster/UCD) 19 caps
James Lowe (Leinster) 11 caps
Michael Lowry (Ulster/Banbridge) 1 cap
Conor Murray (Munster/Garryowen) 95 caps
Garry Ringrose (Leinster/UCD) 41 caps
Johnny Sexton (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 104 caps CAPTAIN
Finlay Bealham (Connacht/Buccaneers) 22 caps
Tadhg Beirne (Munster/Lansdowne) 29 caps
Jack Conan (Leinster/Old Belvedere) 26 caps
Gavin Coombes (Munster/Young Munster) 2 caps
Caelan Doris (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 16 caps
Tadhg Furlong (Leinster/Clontarf) 56 caps
Cian Healy (Leinster/Clontarf) 115 caps
Dave Heffernan (Connacht/Buccaneers) 6 caps
Iain Henderson (Ulster/Academy) 67 caps
Rob Herring (Ulster/Ballynahinch) 25 caps
Dave Kilcoyne (Munster/UL Bohemians) 47 caps
Jeremy Loughman (Munster/Garryowen) uncapped
Joe McCarthy (Leinster/Dublin) uncapped
Ross Molony (Leinster/UCD) uncapped
Peter O’Mahony (Munster/Cork Constitution) 83 caps
Dan Sheehan (Leinster/Lansdowne) 6 caps
Nick Timoney (Ulster/Banbridge) 2 caps
Kieran Treadwell (Ulster/Ballymena) 4 caps
Josh van der Flier (Leinster/UCD) 39 caps
Johnny Sexton Signs Contract Extension to 2023 Rugby World Cup￼
Ireland and Leinster out-half Johnny Sexton has signed a contract extension up until the end of the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France.
In November Johnny earned his 100th cap for Ireland against Japan and played a pivotal role in Ireland’s third defeat of New Zealand. He hit the milestone of 500 Six Nations Championship points against Wales in Round 1 of this year’s tournament and has represented Ireland on 103 occasions to date.
The former World Player of the Year was appointed Ireland captain by Andy Farrell in January 2020 and has led the team to ten victories in his 13 game tenure as the on field general.
Johnny made his international debut against Fiji in November 2009 and has represented Ireland at three Rugby World Cups (2011, 2015 & 2019). Johnny is a two time Lions tourist (2013 & 2017) and has won three Six Nations titles with Ireland and five European Cups with Leinster. He has represented his provinces on 178 occasions, scoring 1549 points.
David Nucifora, IRFU Performance Director, commented: “Johnny’s performances continue to be of the highest standard and he remains an integral member of the Ireland and Leinster squads. He has always been a leader on the field and in the past two years since taking on the Ireland captaincy his leadership off it has been top class. Johnny is a generational player and we are delighted that he has extended to 2023.”
Johnny Sexton, commented: “I always said that if I am enjoying my rugby and the Ireland and Leinster set-ups believe I can add value to the environment then it would be an easy decision to sign another contract. There is some great talent coming through at Leinster at present and I am excited about the prospect of competing at a fourth World Cup with Ireland and the potential for growth in this group between now and then.”