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Am I the only one who thinks that Ireland hired the wrong Englishman as head coach?

Neil Francis


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Andy Farrell’s side face Wales this weekend (Niall Carson/PA)

Andy Farrell’s side face Wales this weekend (Niall Carson/PA)

Andy Farrell’s side face Wales this weekend (Niall Carson/PA)

'Wisdom is oftentimes nearer when we stoop than when we soar' - William Wordsworth.

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Appropriate maybe that it was an Englishman who uttered those words. This avenue of thought has nothing to do with the win against Scotland or the unimpressive manner of it. Am I alone in thinking that we may not have picked the right Englishman to coach our national team?

We may have to wait until the tour of Australia in the summer to see what direction this team takes and what style they play. Wales and France seemed to play a very different style of game from the type of game that their 2019 World Cup coaches taught – we may, however, change our minds on our initial opinion as the Championship unfolds.

Ireland, it seemed to me, were not a million miles away from a softer version of what Joe Schmidt prescribes. Is Andy Farrell going to be Joe Lite? A less obsessive personality yet someone who gives a little bit more free rein? Things change when somebody in charge recognises that the team needs a change in direction. Are they going to change?

Ireland in 2019 lacked the sort of accuracy of execution that was a hallmark of the team in 2018. Joe took a branding iron to all of his squad in all of his time in charge about how he needed them to play. The quality of their play even in a limited form of the game was never less than excellent. That dropped in 2019 and eventually the stronger opposition teams figured us and exposed Ireland.

If Andy Farrell intends to continue with a version of Joe's game we could be in for a period of only intermittent success or maybe a grade lower. Some mundane football too. Even some of Joe's days were vanilla but we got plenty of chocolate chip in between.

We are told that Heineken Cup is a level just below Test match. There is a big gap in terms of space and time to think and the level of intensity.

That said, I can't help thinking how good Leinster are while playing under the tutelage of Stuart Lancaster. The mix of Cullen and Lancaster is pretty effective and they play a brand of rugby which is far more difficult to deal with than what Ireland are currently capable of.

Doubted

Back to Wordsworth's words. Lancaster must have doubted himself when it all unravelled in 2015. To recover himself the way he has, has shown inner strength and character but to come back and follow through on his beliefs and the way he imagines the game – you have to respect that.

All I am saying at this moment in time is that Lancaster has a greater vision and imagination and feel for the international game. He also would have a bigger picture of how the game should be played. When you get the chance – not a common theme in professional sport – to learn from your mistakes, your judgement can be much better. Mercifully, Lancaster's mistakes all came with England. The point I am trying to make is that I prefer smart coaches to big personality coaches. There are very few really smart coaches in World Rugby coaching the top 12 international sides at the moment.

The fascination for and about Andy Farrell is whether he can re-position his team and change their style. Ireland are competitive and efficient but that is only good enough for mid-table and Farrell needs to be inventive and innovative ... in a short space of time.

Andy Reid, the head coach of the newly crowned Super Bowl champions the Kansas City Chiefs, was made to look like somewhat of a genius with some of the play-calling in their come-from-behind victory over the San Francisco 49ers last Sunday. In one play, four Kansas players all spun around to end up in fractionally different positions before a direct snap to their running back which completely flummoxed the 49ers.

After the match, Reid admitted that he had seen the move in a 1948 college game between Michigan and USC on grainy black and white film. Nothing wrong with going back over older moves that were successful ... but 72 years ago? Any original thoughts Andy? Is Farrell an ideas guy? Does he see the big picture? Can he make the transition from a successful defence coach to the top job?

Shaun Edwards did a brilliant job for Wales in his time there and his fingerprints were all over the French victory over England in Paris. England without the Vunipolas and Manu Tuilagi are average. France for all the brouhaha are not that great either – yet! Edwards knows his limitations though and probably it is that rather than a lack of ambition that has prevented him from going for the top job. Tackling and defensive structures are meat and drink for Rugby League coaches who stray into Union pastures. Maybe stick to what you know!

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I thought that Joe Schmidt's early announcement of his retirement did not help the team in their Six Nations or World Cup bid. I also thought that the announcement of Andy Farrell may have been premature – a seamless transition and all that malarkey.

The Kiwis have appointed Ian Foster as Steve Hansen's successor. Foster has been Hansen's assistant since 2012 but his CV is very light and surprisingly the New Zealanders went for the unproven No 2 coach whose main selling point was that he just happened to be on board when the captain left the ship.

Wide-angle

They did, however, only give him a two-year contract. Tony Brown, who was Japan's attack coach, was the man they really wanted to bring the All Blacks to a whole new level. Now there is someone with a wide-angle view on how the game should be played.

You get the impression that Foster is a meat-and-two-veg-type of coach and two years might be it. Rare that you would see the Kiwis go for the safe option with the man in situ.

Players are no longer looked upon as unruly children and the Ireland squad were canvassed for their opinion on Farrell and he received an enthusiastic endorsement. Farrell is popular and respected but the real test comes when he has to figure out not only England and France but our immediate opponents this week.

Wales looked slick and focused and will cause Ireland difficulties. They may not be the defensive side of old but they have become a quality passing side and Wayne Pivac will augment that.

Ireland will have to show that they can be creative and will need to score a few tries to exorcise the flaccid performance against Scotland.

The weather may well turn this match into a lottery and Ireland may well have to play a limited form of the game. That is unfortunate because this match will be the season for Ireland.

We may have to wait a little bit longer to see whether Ireland have got the right (English) man for the job.

Online Editors