Monday 27 January 2020

Des Berry: 'Andy Farrell's new Ireland regime should suit Jordan Larmour and Will Addison'

Andy Farrell addreses the media at Abbotstown, where he revealed he has been discussing plans with Johnny Sexton. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Andy Farrell addreses the media at Abbotstown, where he revealed he has been discussing plans with Johnny Sexton. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Des Berry

When Joe Schmidt took the natural next step up to take over as Ireland head coach in 2013, it was presumed the Leinster Way would become Ireland's Way.

The quick-striking, easy-on-the-eye attacking style, designed around the rugby IQ of Brian O'Driscoll, promoted a beautiful game and, above all else, winning trophies.

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It became so embedded in the Leinster culture that winning at all costs wasn't enough.

It had to go hand-in-hand with the right way of doing it. That is something Matt O'Connor never fully accepted; something Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster are all about.

Slowly, surely, the evolution of 'Joe Ball' came into being with Ireland, where kicking the ball to win it back became as critical as winning the ball in the first place.

The short, intense periods together in Carton House conveyed the impression that Schmidt reduced the game plan because he did not have that day-to-day contact with his players.

Ambition was shelved for automation, a machine-like dedication to the plan preferred to empowering the individuals within it.

That was alright in most quarters until the reward of the 2018 Grand Slam and those remarkable events against New Zealand in 2016 and 2018 were replaced with what England did to Ireland at the start of the Six Nations.

Whatever magic they had was gone and never returned out of the thin air in Japan.

Maybe the truth of Ireland's World Cup demise is that the headmaster-pupil relationship between Schmidt and the players had simply run its' course.

It was not exactly a case of no foul, no harm. Everyone suffered from the fallout, the coach's lustre faded and the players form never really returned through all of 2019.

There had been calls for a new broom to sweep the dressing-room clean, yet that was a complete non-runner with Andy Farrell's contract signed long ago.

There are those perplexed that the Wigan man should be given his first head coach role at the international level, not have those demands tested in the Premiership, PRO14 League or somewhere else.

Then again, if there was a short-list drawn up of the best assistant coaches in the world, Farrell would be right at the top of it.

To say the 44-year-old has served his apprenticeship would be something of an understatement.

Farrell has held the trust of Warren Gatland through two British & Irish Lions tours (2013 & 2017), Schmidt with Ireland (2016-2019) and Stuart Lancaster with England (2011-2015), not forgetting his work in setting the foundations for Saracens (2009-2012).

After all of that, Farrell has more in common with his ex-England boss Lancaster than Schmidt when it comes to the way Ireland will play.

Dave Kearney turned up for his Leinster media duties on Monday, refreshed from an Ireland mini-camp.

The big giveaway was that the veteran wing, from what he saw and heard, envisages Ireland playing more like Leinster. The return to an expansive, attacking mindset will be good for some; not so good for others.

This was never an article of Schmidt's faith in Rob Kearney and may be part of the reason why the stellar full-back is on the outside looking in.

The willingness to move the ball to space and to counter-attack will open up a world of new possibilities for Jordan Larmour and Will Addison.

Schmidt's expectation that all under his rule had to master the basics of their position has had a positive impact on these two as perceived weaknesses have been strengthened.

The club influence of Leinster's Lancaster and Ulster's Jared Payne allied to Farrell's expertise have accelerated Larmour and Addison's accuracy of action and reaction in defence.

That can only be good for Ireland - going forward.

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