| 11.9°C Dublin

Master plan beginning to take shape for Schmidt

Close

Joe Schmidt is starting to put his mark on the Irish team with the help of assistant coach Les Kiss

Joe Schmidt is starting to put his mark on the Irish team with the help of assistant coach Les Kiss

SPORTSFILE

Joe Schmidt is starting to put his mark on the Irish team with the help of assistant coach Les Kiss

Bearing in mind the advance planning undertaken by the new Irish regime, heading to Twickenham with two wins from two represents a significant landmark and, just as Joe Schmidt, Paul O'Connell or anyone involved aren't losing the run of themselves, neither am I.

The make-or-break challenge of this campaign now looms large. The Scottish performance was efficient, providing a confidence-boosting start for Schmidt's charges, while the comfortable victory over Wales at the Aviva a week ago sees us heading for London in the best possible frame of mind.

For clinical efficiency and totality of performance you would have to go back some way to match it.

When every player performs to the maximum of his ability, then the man calling the shots can take some quiet satisfaction, but, as we already know, that is not the Schmidt way.

And the ' if it ain't broke, why fix it' mantra doesn't apply here either. Logic would dictate that, on the basis of the Welsh performance and with the exception of the injured Dan Tuohy, the same squad should set out for England.

That may turn out to be the case, but this newly installed Irish management team will make that call on the basis of what lies ahead and not what went immediately before. In other words, what the new head coach tries to do is design his modus operandi on the make-up of the opposition, evaluating their individual and collective strengths and weaknesses.

It is a new departure in terms of mindset, whereby the facility for change was limited to the functioning 15 at any given point. Whether it is overly ambitious only time will tell, but in terms of changing the habits of a lifetime, the astute Kiwi is already on to a winner given the manner in which the extended squad – and particularly those outside the Leinster fold – have already bought into the new system.

Put simply, it is about building a squad of players willing to accept a system whereby selection is based not only on form, but also catered to the next opposition.

If that qualifies as a 'horses for courses' strategy, then so be it. Conversely, when a coach throws out the line 'we're not overly concerned about the opposition, but on ourselves in terms of preparation,' then it is time to get worried.

The trick is making sure the players trust in the system every bit as much as the system trusts in the players. While there may be no change in the starting line-up to face the English, equally there could be two or three.

Already the new management have established their philosophy for selection and if there is any uncertainty in the minds of Schmidt, Les Kiss and John Plumtree, form and attitude in training can make for the final piece in the selection jigsaw.

A little uncertainty provides an added bite to training and while the media are having to get used to much later team announcements than what has been the norm, the logic behind the delay is more than justified on playing evidence to date and how the new system is being accepted from within. And what about this for a potential starting line up beyond the 23 that faced the Welsh?

15 – Simon Zebo (Munster)

14 – Tommy Bowe (Ulster)

13 – Darren Cave (Ulster)

12 – Luke Marshall (Ulster)

11 – Luke Fitzgerald (Leinster)

10 – Ian Madigan (Leinster)

9 – Eoin Reddan (Leinster)

1 – Dave Kilcoyne (Munster)

2 – Richardt Strauss (Leinster)

3 – Stephen Archer (Munster)

4 – Donnacha Ryan (Munster)

5 – Iain Henderson (Ulster)

6 – Jordi Murphy (Leinster)

7 – Sean O'Brien (Leinster)

8 – Robin Copeland (Cardiff)

And that still leaves Mike McCarthy (Leinster), Rhys Ruddock (Leinster), Kevin McLaughlin (Leinster), Felix Jones (Munster), Robbie Henshaw (Connacht), Ian Keatley (Munster), Kieran Marmion (Connacht), Craig Gilroy (Ulster), Keith Earls (Munster) and, all going well, Stephen Ferris (Ulster).

 

Taking competitive edge out of games demeans sport – whatever the code

Simon Halliday played for Bath and England on the wing and in the centre during the '80s and '90s.

He was a strong and skilful three-quarter and a player I admired greatly for his rugby-playing prowess during that period.

Now heavily involved at Esher RC, the ex-England player has gone even higher in my estimation given his stance on 'mini rugby' against Surrey Rugby, an RFU constituent body.

In a nutshell, the powers that be in Surrey Rugby have ruled that 'mini rugby' tournaments up to U-12 will only allow teams of mixed ability.

As a result, Esher have withdrawn from all Surrey 'mini rugby' competition on the grounds that it fundamentally disagrees with an underage system which dictates that teams must be weakened if they are winning matches too easily and that events will have no overall winners.

As Halliday so rightly says: "In sport there are winners and losers, as long as you don't demean the loser, it's straight forward."

There are issues – specifically related to parents and coaches (often times one and the same) – but to remove competition on the premise that you are supposedly being more player centred simply defies logic.

Sport mirrors life, with succeeding and failing part of the learning process.

I have listened to 'do gooders' peddle this so-called child-centred philosophy on this side of the Irish Sea too.

More emphasis on skill development and less on competition and all that holier than thou nonsense we are told.

Skill development is what coaching at that formative age is all about, but remove honest competition and children see through it straight away.

Indeed, if you want one sure fire way of driving children away from sport, any sport, before they even start, then remove the element of competition.

Of much more relevance is teaching adults (more than children) how to win and lose with humility; how to weaken teams through discrete substitutions when the game is well won and make sure that a team never piles on the points when it serves no purpose whatsoever for anyone involved.

And here, for sure, sensitive refereeing (another issue for another day) has undoubtedly a large part to play.

In rugby, as in life, there are winners and losers and the implication that competition and fun at an early age cannot go together is just wrong. They can – and to suggest otherwise demeans sport – whatever the code.

 

O'Sullivan absence borders on criminal

In an interview in these pages, Pat Fenlon called on the FAI to solve whatever differences they may have with Brian Kerr and place the former Irish manager in a key developmental role.

According to the ex-Hibernian, Bohemians and Shelbourne manager: "Brian is not involved in the game and that is criminal because he has so much to offer. He could drive a developmental project for Irish football"

For FAI substitute IRFU and for Brian Kerr substitute Eddie O'Sullivan (above).

As with Kerr, whom I soldiered with at Milltown in the early '70s, when, even as a raw 18-year-old, he was obsessed with coaching, the virtual lack of any O'Sullivan input into Irish rugby – specifically a developmental involvement – also borders on the criminal.

Unfortunately, some things never change when it comes to knocking our own.

Irish Independent