Gordon D'Arcy: It would be harsh to judge Joe Schmidt on his performance at the World Cup
Former Ireland centre Gordon D'Arcy has said that it would be unfair to judge Ireland coach Joe Schmidt by his performances at the Rugby World Cup, with the former Leinster centre insisting that you have to judge Schmidt, and indeed any coach, on what they achieve over their entire time in charge rather than the success they have, or the lack thereof, in a given tournament.
Ireland received their Rugby World Cup pool draw last Wednesday with Joe Schmidt's side set to take on Scotland and hosts Japan in what is a very favourable draw for the New Zealander.
Schmidt's predecessors - Declan Kidney and Eddie O'Sullivan - were both dismissed from their posts less than a year after their respective shortcomings in the 2007 and 2011 Rugby World Cup's.
Ireland have never progressed past the tournament's quarter-final stages in eight previous attempts, but D'Arcy insists that it would be very harsh to judge Schmidt's time in charge by how Ireland fare at a given World Cup.
"If someone judges a coach's record on one set of games in a whole tenure, it would be very harsh," said D'Arcy at the 2017 Irish Life Health Workplace Fitness Challenge launch at Charlemont Place on Monday.
"If you look into the minutiae of the last World Cup, had New Zealand lost five of their most influential players, would they have gone on to win the World Cup? I don't think so.
"Ireland knew going in, and they almost jinxed it going in, that if we keep these guys fit and on the field, we have a chance to get to a quarter-final or a semi-final, and then low and behold we get to the quarter-final and we lose the five guys we said we absolutely couldn't lose.
"That's just rugby and it shows just how attritional the game is.
"Playing international rugby week on week on week is tough on a squad, and I think they will have learned from that and they will have realised that while we might think that we have strength and depth to progress in a World Cup, we will have to have strength and depth that has been tested at the highest level.
"That's probably what came out from that World Cup, was that the guys that came in probably only had a handful of games of international rugby, so hopefully the squad that will be going to Japan will be littered with guys with potential to play at the 2019 World Cup."
When Ireland were unceremoniously dumped from the 2015 Rugby World Cup after a 23-point defeat to Argentina in the quarter-finals, 10 out of the 23 players in that matchday squad had 20 international caps or less heading into the tournament.
The losses of Paul O'Connell, Johnny Sexton, Peter O'Mahony and Sean O'Brien heading into that quarter-final really seemed to hamper Ireland's chances of progressing to the final four, with Schmidt's side not possessing the necessary depth to replace the aforementioned.
It's an area that Schmidt has looked to address during this World Cup cycle with the former Leinster coach introducing the likes of CJ Stander, Tadgh Furlong, Josh van der Flier, Garry Ringrose, Niall Scannell, Andrew Conway, Luke McGrath and John Ryan to the national fold since the defeat to Argentina.
All of the aforementioned have either started or came off the bench for Ireland at some point in this season's Six Nations, with Stander, Furlong and Ringrose managing to nail down a consistent place in the starting XV since their introduction to the national setup.
D'Arcy commended the trio for their rapid rise in international rugby, but he also said that there's another group of players emerging who will have to start challenging for places in Schmidt's squad if Ireland are to really address the depth problems that have been so evident at previous tournaments.
"There's a lot of young guys coming through that I think will be getting ready to peak at that World Cup in Japan," added the former Ireland international.
"There's a couple of guys that have broken through and they've done exceptionally well, but there's probably another group simmering beneath that as well.
"There's a couple of Munster backrowers, Jack O'Donoghue is going along reasonably well.
"You've got [Rory] O'Loughlin and [Adam] Byrne going well in Leinster, [Jacob] Stockdale up north in Ulster, there seems to be plenty of competition and a lot of guys who are in the right age profile, that are in their mid-twenties, with a handful of caps, that are going to really start to kick on and put pressure on the guys that have 30 plus caps."
While D'Arcy predicts a further injection of youth into Schmidt's squad in the future, he also acknowledges that the windows of opportunity for new players are relatively narrow, with the upcoming summer tour of Japan and the USA a big opportunity for players to force their way into the Ireland boss' future plans.
"It is only really two years that you have, because you've got this summer tour and the 2018 tour to really stake your claim outside of the Six Nations, which we know you have to win those games," said D'Arcy.
"It's not a lot of matches if you think about it - three tests on tour, three tests in November, three matches on the 2018 tour and three tests next November, so it's only 12 internationals that you're playing outside of the Six Nations to try and stake your claim.
"You're never given a cap, you're getting the results of your hard work, and they're going to give opportunities to guys that in their mind will make an impression in the November internationals.
"If you're a player getting an opportunity on this tour, you can look at it one of two ways; you can look at it and say 'oh I'm getting a game while so and so is away on the Lions', or you can look at it as getting an opportunity to add another decision into the coach's mind, so it will be very interesting to see how they perform."
Ireland will face the United States in New Jersey on June 10th before taking on Japan in Fukuroi City on June 17th and then again in Tokyo on June 24th. Schmidt is expected to name his 30-man squad for the forthcoming tour later this week.
71% of Irish Workers struggle to find time to exercise - and now more than half of our workforce are overweight. Irish Life Health calls on Ireland's workplaces to participate in the simple six-week Workplace Fitness Challenge, using the free Move Your MET App. Gordon D'Arcy was speaking at the launch of the 2017 Irish Life Health Workplace Fitness Challenge at Charlemont Place. For further details visit www.irishlifehealth.ie/moveyourmet.