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Change of direction a risk we must take

The quiet signing of former Auckland Blues and current Clermont-Auvergne backs coach Joe Schmidt to lead Leinster to the next level in their ongoing development as a European super-power is perhaps an admission of how they, and by extension Ireland, need to move away from Australian structure towards New Zealand and French flair.

It is this sort of heads-up, intuitive, free-thinking on the pitch that cannot be legislated for by the most watertight defensive systems.

On Saturday, Ireland were taken apart at the seams by a French defensive strategy that seemed to have all the bases covered, except when Gordon D'Arcy danced and darted around Fulgence Ouedraogo from broken play and when Stephen Ferris and Brian O'Driscoll improvised for David Wallace's try.

In other words, Ireland has developed an Australian style of attack where they are at their most dangerous off first phase from scrum or lineout.

It is when they build the phases that they actually become disjointed in their makeup and most players grow uncomfortable with the act of improvisation, with forwards ending up in uncomfortable parts of the field, isolated on the wing for instance.

Maybe, the time has come for the likes of Jonathan Sexton, Rob Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald, D'Arcy and O'Driscoll to learn a new way to play the game -- to play it the Joe Schmidt way.

England and Wales have been far more successful in Paris than Ireland in the professional era. This is because the only way to beat the French is to either overpower them, beat them at their own game or by a combination of both approaches.

Of course, England has mostly settled for the dross that comes with winning an arm wrestle. Wales have used an unstructured, ball-in-hand, run-it-from-anywhere, counter-attack that cannot be solely policed by robotic systems.

Ireland were not able to do impose themselves physically on the French. They were also not equipped to manoeuvre their way through them with a style of attack that owes everything to the playbook and very little to personal ingenuity, especially on the counter.

For example, Wales have won three of their last six visits to Paris, in 1999 (34-33), 2001 (43-35) and 2005 (24-18) and they have done it by beating France at their own game at a time when Ireland has been loaded with the 'golden generation'.

It is no co-incidence that British and Irish Lions revelation Tommy Bowe opted to stay at The Ospreys rather than return to one of the Irish provinces because the Welsh club play a style of rugby that, as he said, "is suited to my game".

How come Bowe has not been brought into the Irish gameplan as frequently as he was with the Lions and he is with the Ospreys?

He should be the central plank in Ireland's attacking game. He has the physique to challenge the gainline and the skills to send others over it.

Surely, Ireland have to make better use of the best wing the British and Irish Lions had in South Africa last summer. He is a creator and finisher, a man who makes things happen when he is on the ball. Yet, he has been reduced to a peripheral role for his country.

Ireland's gameplan never looked to use Bowe's handling skills through the middle. Effectively, they played two centres, Bowe and Keith Earls, on the wings and never sought to consistently use either of them inside where both are comfortable. They held their positions rigid and never threatened the French backline.

Leinster's Fijian wing Isa Nacewa has mentioned how Schmidt became 'Mr Rugby' to him over the course of their previous relationship at Auckland. Basically, he taught Nacewa everything he knows about back play.

The Blues are revered for their fluid, off-the-cuff, multi-phase patterns where they can strike from anywhere. The problem for Schmidt is that at Auckland and Clermont he transformed attack without transporting championships.

There was a time when a certain David Knox was involved at Leinster that they played with a sense of freedom that was box-office entertainment, but, in the end, not considered winning rugby.

Knox, an uncontrollable maverick, brought an element of genius to Leinster's play that attracted the crowds but not the trophies. It made them unpredictable and brilliant.

At times, this backfired for Leinster, as it did for Wales in 2003, 2007 and 2009 at Stade de France. But, with great risk comes great reward.

Schmidt will bring the reputation of an innovator to Leinster. There is time for him to have a big influence over how Ireland move forward for the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand, by unleashing a different kind of genius inside Sexton, Kearney, Fitzgerald, D'Arcy and even O'Driscoll at Leinster and, by extension, with Ireland.


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