IF YOU CAN MEET WITH TRIUMPH AND DISASTER AND TREAT THOSE TWO IMPOSTERS JUST THE SAME…
Schmidt attributes Ireland’s World Cup demise to the pressure of expectation which, he says, became a “self-consuming monster”.
In the last couple of years Irish rugby has seen it all – the dizzying highs, the terrifying lows, the creamy middles.
Before the World Cup, I was convinced Joe Schmidt had a genius plan: turn in a series of poor performances in the 6 Nations then unleash the real Ireland (who had won the Grand Slam and beaten the All Blacks in Dublin only last year) on their unsuspecting opponents in the World Cup.
There was a growing anticipation towards the Quarter final – Ireland’s customary point of World Cup exit – to the point that many fans and pundits quietly believed we might just edge it against the All Blacks. *SPOILER* That didn’t happen.
It’s the hope that kills you.
Ireland’s World Cup defeat was embarrassingly emphatic. However, reports of the death of Irish rugby have been greatly exaggerated.
With the departure of Joe Schmidt, it is the end of an era of unprecedented success for Ireland. By the end of his tenure, however, it was obvious Ireland had peaked too early.
Arguably, however, the rugby infrastructure and players exist in Ireland to allow us to once again compete with the best teams in the world.
An overhaul is necessary, and it is worth reflecting on some of the things that went wrong for Ireland at this World Cup and, more importantly, what they can do to fix it.
1. Defending the Indefensible
In the sequel to the ‘Brighton Miracle’ – Japan’s dramatic win against South Africa at the last World Cup – Ireland’s ‘Shizuoka de-bagging’ at the hands of the Brave Blossoms is evidence of Ireland’s inability to adapt.
Ireland attempted to impose their rigid defensive structure on the hosts, but Japan stubbornly refused to follow the script.
Ireland like to defend the 12 channel. The Irish defensive line comes ‘up and in’, with the 13 generally coming up out of the line to funnel teams into a stacked midfield and limit the opposition’s width. That’s the theory.
Japan, however, insisted in throwing a spanner in the works. To open-up space, Japan’s first receiver would pass to an inside runner to punch holes and occupy Ireland’s back row. They would do this a couple of times to keep Ireland guessing and splinter the Irish defence. This, in combination with Japan’s unpredictable attack and ability to keep the ball alive, meant that Ireland’s rigid defensive structure had no chance.
South Africa had done their homework before facing Japan and deployed Faf de Klerk to follow the ball in defence and prevent the pesky inside pass from the Japanese first receiver, which he did to great effect.
In fairness to Ireland, the All Blacks were nearly impossible to defend against. The speed of their ruck ball was unbelievable. They would generally draw in defenders with three quick rucks, forcing Ireland’s defence to wrap around and then spread the ball into the wider channels. The only way to counteract this is to attempt to slow down their ruck ball which is, of course, easier said than done.
2. Dare you to move
What is the difference between Ireland’s attack now and when they were at their peak?
With Ireland’s attack it is always blindingly obvious who the ball is going to. It’s slow, deliberate and static. Presumably, this is to remove risk. The idea is to trundle the ball up the pitch, back and forth, never going too wide and never doing anything silly. Basically, recycle the ball through endless phases to wear teams down.
This only works if, 1) players can reliably catch the ball and, 2) Ireland are actually moving forward and creating point scoring opportunities.
At their peak, Ireland would have a ‘pod’ of three runners moving, ready to receive the ball. This makes it very difficult for the opposition to anticipate what’s happening and organize their defence accordingly.
Ireland would then either give the ball to a member of the pod or shift the ball in behind the pod and spread it out to the backs. Either way, it was less predictable, conservative and, somehow, less error ridden.
Now, the pods are static, it is obvious who the ball is going to, and the opposition line up to smash the ball carrier. Clearly, against good teams this doesn’t work. Cian Healy, for example, carried the ball a grand total of 0 metres against the All Blacks. At the very least, Ireland’s pods need to move and learn to shift the point of the attack to keep the opposition guessing. Ireland have no shortage of fantastic ball carriers – they must be allowed to operate with some degree of dynamism.
In terms of Ireland’s backline, Schmidt limits the level of creativity and invention allowed. With one exception – Jonny Sexton. When Sexton is not in form, Ireland do not play well. Sadly, there is no obvious candidate to take his place (Ulster’s Michael Lowry will not be ready for a couple of years).
There is a lack of effective strike runners in the Ireland squad – players who are capable of picking a really good line and taking the ball off the first receiver at pace. Tommy Bowe in his prime, for example. Stockdale is undoubtedly talented, but he appears to be limited to attacking in the outside channels. Larmour and/or Carberry must now be given license to attack from deep and give Ireland the attacking flair they have been lacking.
3. The Rise of the Offload
The tackle rules have, and will continue to, fundamentally change the game of rugby.
For better or worse, it seems inevitable that World Rugby will limit tackles to waist-height. The way the game is refereed we are already moving in that direction.
Choke tackles – wrapping the player and the ball – and will become increasingly difficult. The type of bone-crunching tackles that feature in YouTube compilations will become a thing of the past.
Offloading will become an increasingly important core skill. Ireland have among the lowest number of offloads of any team in World Rugby and they must get used to playing the ball out of a tackle.
In contrast, Japan demonstrated that the offload can be used to unlock defences to great effect.
Schmidt picked his team based on players who would carry out his instructions to the letter. This meant there was no room for the likes of Stu McCloskey who – for all of his perceived failings – is a master of the half-break offload.
Is McCloskey Ireland’s answer at centre? No, probably not. However, Ireland will have to adapt and find players who have the necessary skill-set for the rapidly changing modern game in which the off-load will be king. With no shortage of blatant Ulster bias, I would humbly suggest that Ulster’s James Hume will fit the bill in the next couple of seasons.
4. Loyalty Over Royalty
It’s hard to argue with Schmidt’s unwavering loyalty to his trusted lieutenants. It’s a good quality in a person, but whether it’s appropriate in the ruthless world of professional sport is another question.
Schmidt sends a clear directive to his players and, understandably, he picks the ones who carry out his instructions to the letter. Indeed, this extends to selecting players who are out of form or are not entirely fit. This type of loyalty ultimately cost Ireland.
For example, Peter O’Mahoney was nowhere near his best at this tournament. The in-form Rhys Ruddock was perhaps a better option but was overlooked in favour of O’Mahoney’s ‘big-game experience’. Kilcoyne, Conway and Farrell will also feel they were not given enough of a chance.
Before Ireland faced the All-Blacks the narrative had revolved around a seasoned Irish team seeking to expose the youth and possible vulnerability of New Zealand’s young brigade of George Bridge, Anton Lienert Brown and Jack Goodhue.
“Experience is a funny thing, isn’t it?” Hansen said with a small smile after they had just dismantled Ireland.
“I’m not being disrespectful here in saying that, but Ireland’s experience was not to win. And we have the guys who actually had experience of winning. And that’s why you’ve got to be careful when you start talking about experience.”
Hansen demonstrates ruthlessness and pragmatism. For example, leaving Owen Franks at home, shifting Beauden Barrett to full-back, dropping Sonny-Bill Williams from the starting team and leaving Sam Cane out against England. There were blips for the All Blacks in this World Cup cycle as they tested their combinations. Hansen has never been afraid to get worse before getting better.
Ireland could learn from this ruthless pragmatism going forward.
5. Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.
Schmidt did not allow much room for Ireland to play what was in front of them.
Granted, every top team has some degree of structure, even if it’s controlled chaos. However, as much as Schmidt argues that he allows room for creativity in his Ireland team, there was no evidence of this at the World Cup. World class players must be allowed to play ‘in the moment’.
There were a number of instances where Ireland faithfully carried out pre-ordained attack moves, failing to look up and see, for example, that there was oceans of space in front of them. Ireland have players who are more than capable of exploiting such opportunities.
Ireland appeared to be playing with a debilitating anxiety against New Zealand and, to some extent, Japan.
When faced with an attacking structure they hadn’t seen before, Ireland didn’t know what to do. They couldn’t adapt to the unexpected.
Ireland need to focus on developing players who are creative, adaptable and resilient. It is now Andy Farrell’s job to create this environment and encourage a new generation of confident, self-organised Ireland players, capable of adapting to what’s happening in front of them. This will take Ireland to the next level.
Scene set for super-charged Rugby World Cup as new dates in 2022 confirmed
- Matches will take place between 8 October–12 November, 2022 in Auckland and Whangārei
- RWC 2021 tournament window increases from 35 to 43 days (including 5 days ahead of first match)
- Match schedule prioritises player welfare with five-day minimum rest days
- Revamped format with all fixtures to be played on weekends with triple-header matches scheduled per day
- New Rugby World Cup 2021 brandmark unveiled, including bespoke te reo Māori version for tournament promotion in New Zealand
Rugby World Cup 2021 will feature increased rest periods for all teams following World Rugby’s confirmation of the revised tournament dates which will now see New Zealand host the tournament between 8 October-12 November, 2022.
With the ambition of super-charging the schedule for players, fans and the host nation, the tournament window, including preparation ahead of the first match, will be extended from 35 to 43 days resulting in all teams having a minimum of five rest days between matches. This aligns with the approach recently approved for the men’s competition.
The extension of the tournament window, also allows for a revamped tournament format that will see all matches take place on Saturdays and Sundays, with no overlap, meaning fans will not miss a moment of the first women’s edition of a Rugby World Cup to be hosted in the southern hemisphere.
With the tournament starting later in the year, players and fans will benefit from warmer weather and longer daylight hours. The pool phase will be played on the weekends of 8-9, 15-16 and 22-23 October, 2022 at Eden Park, Northlands Events Centre in Whangārei and Waitakere Stadium.
The quarter-finals will take place on 29-30 October followed by semi-finals on Saturday, 5 November. The bronze final and RWC 2021 final will be played on Saturday, 12 November, with Eden Park set to create history by becoming the first stadium to host both the men’s and women’s Rugby World Cup finals.
A detailed match schedule and broadcast timings will be announced at a later date.
In addition to the revised tournament dates, World Rugby has also unveiled new tournament brandmarks retaining reference to 2021, the year the tournament was originally intended to take place, while conveying to fans and audiences that the tournament will now be played in 2022. A bespoke te reo Māori version of the new brandmark has also been designed for tournament promotion in New Zealand. This reflects the importance of te reo as an official language of Aotearoa, New Zealand and to signify the desire to celebrate the unique Māori culture for all those connected with the tournament.
World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said: “We are fully committed to accelerating the women’s game at all levels and while the postponement was disappointing for everyone, it has provided the unique opportunity to review every aspect of the event to ensure it is the best it can be for the players, fans around the world and the wonderful and enthusiastic New Zealanders.
“Longer rest periods between matches for all teams is further commitment to delivering comprehensive player welfare standards at RWC 2021.
“I would like to thank all stakeholders for their support and open-minded approach to this process and we can now look forward to a truly spectacular Rugby World Cup 2021, playing in 2022.”
International Rugby Players appointee to the RWC Board, Melodie Robinson, said: “While it’s disappointing that the 2021 tournament had to be postponed, the positive is that we’ve been able to ensure the 2022 event and subsequent Rugby World Cups will have a minimum five-day turnaround for players.
“Just like the men’s tournament, this will hopefully help to level the playing field for all sides and see an increase in competitive matches.”
Rugby World Cup 2021 Tournament Director Michelle Hooper said: “We are delighted that together with World Rugby we have been able to further super-charge the women’s game here in New Zealand with the confirmation of the new dates in 2022 and the amendments to the tournament format. We are excited to be hosting Rugby World Cup here in Aotearoa, New Zealand.
“The momentum for women’s sport is continuously building and we look forward to demonstrating this to the world through the unstoppable energy that will be on display during Rugby World Cup in 2022. We can’t wait to welcome the world’s best women’s rugby players to our shores and share the Manaakitanga so intrinsically linked to our people and our place and rugby in Aotearoa, New Zealand with them and their fans.”
In a commitment to delivering an outstanding Rugby World Cup 2021, playing in 2022, earlier this year World Rugby announced a £2 million funding package to support a Rugby World Cup 2021 high performance preparation and competition programme for qualified teams and teams still competing in the qualification process.
The programme will focus on providing teams with additional monetary support to deliver additional team training camps and coordinating international competition to give them the greatest opportunity to be at their best in New Zealand next year. Further details will be announced at a later stage.
Australia to launch its bid to host Rugby World Cup 2027
The announcement will be made at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney on Thursday, with Rugby Australia and the Bid Advisory Board unveils the ‘Game On’ campaign.
RA Chairman Hamish McLennan believes that the opportunity for Australia to host its second men’s World Cup is significant for the country and the Pacific region.
“This is an exciting day for all Australians as we formally put our hand up to host the third-largest sporting event in the world,” he said in a statement.
“Hosting Rugby World Cup 2027 is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Australia, which would drive substantial economic outcomes for our country, while also providing a lasting legacy for Rugby in this region.
“It would also allow us to support the Australian Government’s ambitions around major events in what is shaping up to be a green and gold decade for the nation – from the FIBA Women’s World Cup in 2022, ICC Men’s T20 World Cup in 2022, FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2023, the British and Irish Lions Tour in 2025, Netball World Cup in 2027, and the exciting potential of an Olympic Games in Queensland in 2032.
“It is also a significant opportunity for Rugby in Australia and the Pacific, with the event to provide an unrivalled opportunity to grow the game by attracting further investment, participants, officials and volunteers.
“Australia is a sports-loving nation with a vast network of world-class modern stadia. We have a proud Rugby heritage in this country and are also home to ex-pats from across the globe who love to get out and support their teams when they tour.”
World Rugby will announce the successful host candidate in May 2022, with Australia entering the dialogue phase of the host selection process.
2027 Bid Advisory Board Chairman, Sir Rod Eddington, believes the event would be vital to the growth of the country if successful
“Hosting Rugby World Cup 2027 would be a significant moment for Australia on the world stage,” he added.
“This event is a beacon to the business community and tourists around the world. We cannot underestimate the significance hosting this tournament would have for Australia’s economy.
“The 2027 event is projected to attract more than two million attendees across seven weeks of competition, including 200,000 international visitors, and generate $2.5 billion in direct and indirect expenditure to the economy, while also creating 13,300 FTE jobs and stimulating $500 million in new trade and investment.
“This is a moment for all Australia to celebrate as we put our best foot forward and say to the world, it is time for Rugby’s showpiece event to return to Australian shores in 2027.”
With the nation set to host a plethora of international competitions over the next five years, Minister for Sport Richard Colbeck shared the sentiment that securing the World Cup would once again show off Australia’s sporting credentials.
“Australia already has a strong record as an international host. We understand what it takes to stage the kind of major events that are watched by millions of sport fans across the world,” Colbeck added.
“Rugby World Cup 2027 would again showcase Australia’s credentials as a sporting host.
“It will also serve as a point of pride for Australian spectators who will be cheering from the sidelines.”
Women’s Rugby World Cup looks set to be postponed.
World Rugby has made the difficult decision to recommend the postponement of Rugby World Cup 2021, scheduled to be hosted in New Zealand between 18 September-16 October, until next year. The recommendation will be considered by the Rugby World Cup Board and World Rugby Executive Committee on 8 and 9 March respectively.Play Video
While appreciating the recommendation is extremely disappointing for teams and fans, it has their interests at heart, and gives the tournament the best opportunity to be all it can be for them, all New Zealanders and the global rugby family.
The recommendation is based on the evolution of the uncertain and challenging global COVID-19 landscape. It has become clear in recent discussions with key partners including New Zealand Rugby, the New Zealand Government and participating unions, that, given the scale of the event and the COVID-19-related uncertainties, it is just not possible to deliver the environment for all teams to be the best that they can be on the sport’s greatest stage.
The challenges include uncertainty and the ability for teams to prepare adequately for a Rugby World Cup tournament both before and on arrival in New Zealand, and challenging global travel restrictions.
World Rugby can assure teams, New Zealanders and the global rugby family that the recommendation to postpone the tournament will help to ensure that Rugby World Cup 2021 will be all it can be next year for players, fans and the rugby family – one of the great Rugby World Cups.
Further updates will be issued following the Rugby World Cup Board and World Rugby Executive Committee meetings next week.
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