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.
Wales to Face Japan in the Summer
Wales have confirmed that they will play Japan in the summer along with their clashes with the All Blacks
Wales have announced that they will take on Japan in the far east this summer with the venue to be confirmed in due course.
It will be Wales’ first time back to Japan since their Rugby World Cup campaign last year, where they went on to finish fourth following a semi-final loss to eventual winners South Africa and another loss to the All Blacks in the third-place play-off.
The match will take place on June 27th, ahead of the team’s trip to New Zealand where they will play two tests against the mighty All Blacks and head coach Wayne Pivac is looking forward to the recent World Cup hosts.
“Going back to Japan for Wales will be a really big fixture on the back of a really successful Rugby World Cup for Japan as hosts both on and off the field. The squad and Welsh Rugby Union made a huge impression on the country in the lead up to and during the World Cup and attracted a lot of local support so it will be great to take the squad back to Japan for the first summer test,” he said.
Wales’ neighbours England are also set for a return to Japan in the summer, with Eddie Jones’ side set for a two-test series against the Brave Blossoms.
It is a huge boost for the Japanese team, who will now get to face some top-tier nations following their incredible World Cup displays and will now have the chance to continue their progression at the top-level of the game.
Huge Relief for Jones Ahead of Six Nations
Eddie Jones will be a relieved man with one of his key men set to return from injury this weekend
The England star left the field of play in the 65th minute of that match and the worst was feared as medical staff helped him come off.
It is a massive boost for Jones, who lost his star early in the Rugby World Cup final last year due to concussion and would have been worried that he would once again be without him for the country’s Six Nations opening game against France on February 2nd.
If he can stay fit between now and then Sinckler appears to be nailed on for a starting role in what will be the team’s first game since their World Cup loss to South Africa.
Cruden Not Thinking About All Blacks
With Aaron Cruden set for his return to Super Rugby action in the coming weeks many have questioned whether he may return to the All Blacks fold, but the player himself is not concerned with all the talk
The 31-year-old, who is returning to New Zealand following a two-year stint in France with Montpellier, has excited fans with his return and they are now wondering if he may get another chance to play for the All Blacks.
Before his departure to France Cruden picked up 50 caps for his country, but has failed to add to that due to his move abroad. However, his return goes hand in hand with change in the All Blacks set-up as Ian Foster begins his reign as head coach.
Entering a new era in All Blacks history could mean that a slot could open up for Cruden to put his hand up for selection if he can hit the ground running for the Chiefs, with Beauden Barrett’s position in the team still up for debate with many preferring him as a full-back.
Meanwhile, Richie Mo’unga is a natural No 10, but some appear to have question marks over his place in the team.
However, despite all the talk as to the possibility of his return to the national side Cruden insists he isn’t thinking about anything other than the task at hand with the Chiefs.
“I just want to contribute to each environment I’m in and haven’t thought too much about the All Blacks. I’ve been removed from that environment for a few seasons and there have been a lot of changes in that scene as well,” he said while speaking to the media.
A stumbling block in fans hope for his return to the national fold is that he is set to leave the Chiefs after just one season and head to Japan where he will play for the Kobelco Steelers, meaning he may not be a long-term option and therefore not come into Foster’s thoughts.
Whatever happens on the national scene Cruden’s return to the franchise where he won two Super Rugby titles in his first stint sees him link up with new head coach Warren Gatland and he was full of praise for the former Wales head coach.
“His pedigree speaks for itself, you can see what he’s been able to do with the Welsh national side. He’s obviously a passionate Waikato/Chiefs man and having him back in the region will do wonders for this team. He’s brought his own style and structure to training and, talking to a lot of the boys they are really energised. It’s a lot more player-driven with coaches there to provide guidance and a bit of structure, giving the players the allowance and energy to bring things to life which is awesome,” he added.
Although unlikely the talk of Cruden’s possible comeback in an All Blacks jersey will not go away any time soon and if he can impress this season who knows what might happen.
For now he has his sights on the Chiefs and with their season opener against the Blues fast approaching Cruden will hope to help him and Gatland get off to the perfect start on their return to New Zealand.
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