Sunday 11 December 2016

Off the Ball: Irish depth has fans dreaming

Ger Gilroy

Published 30/11/2016 | 02:30

There’s a sense that Joe Schmidt has learned he needs a full army not just an elite
squad to go far in a tournament Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
There’s a sense that Joe Schmidt has learned he needs a full army not just an elite squad to go far in a tournament Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

The night before we had our Off the Ball roadshow at the '3' Arena during the Rugby World Cup, we got a bunch of tweets to @offtheball wondering where everyone was and why it was so quiet. Some listeners had shown up to the party a night early. There's a bad metaphor there for just how brilliantly the team are currently playing a year on from the big dance. Timing is everything, right? Is it trite to wonder why we couldn't have been this good 12 months ago?

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Yes, Ireland probably had to suffer that defeat to Argentina and in that manner to precipitate the learnings that allow a supposedly second-string team beat both South Africa away and Australia at home.

The injuries and Seán O'Brien's suspension in that France game meant we never had a chance of beating Argentina in the quarter-final given how little meaningful game time certain combinations had together. All that has changed.

Some of it appears to have been injury-enforced but equally there's a sense that Joe Schmidt has learned he needs a full army not just an elite squad to go far in a tournament.

Schmidt didn't stay on as coach to get Ireland over the quarter-final hump. He wants more. Now the IRFU and the provinces need to do whatever it takes. If that means giving the likes of Seán O'Brien, Donnacha Ryan and Cian Healy extended breaks from the game next season or the season after then so be it.

The mid-career career break has to be considered. It helps the player, it helps their replacements and it also exposes the third in the depth chart to meaningful game-time at key points in the season.

If creating depth means allowing younger players a season on loan in France or England then go for it. There's depth almost everywhere but scrum-half right now, and a good Six Nations should cement a top four seeding. Have Ireland ever believed we deserved to be considered potential champions before?

Clive Woodward's England acted like it in the build-up to 2003 from a long way out, built continuity and contingency into all the team's actions. Ireland are doing the same. Everyone can show up on time next time.

Irish Independent

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