'I didn't think Ireland evolved. They came out with the same game plan' - All Blacks legend Justin Marshall
JUSTIN MARSHALL is midway through an answer about South Africa’s style of play when he looks up at the small collection of Irish journalists he’s chatting to, smiles ruefully and says: “but, hey, we're not in the final! South Africa will say 'we are’.”
The former All Black scrum-half has his own fair share of World Cup heart-ache and concedes that this New Zealand exit hurts less than others given the recent history of achievement.
Ireland, in contrast, have never achieved at this tournament and will spend the next four years figuring out what went wrong before pitching up in France to try it all again.
Marshall is scathing of Ireland’s failure to make changes to their game-plan in the wake of their superb 2018 campaign.
"Coming into this tournament I said, from a New Zealand perspective and I mean this with the greatest of respect because I know I'm talking to the Irish, but I thought there were two teams that could beat the All Blacks and that was England and South Africa,” Marshall said.
"I didn't think Ireland had evolved, I think very much like Wales were tactically, they had a great game-plan that they believed in but it is predictable and it gets analysed.
"They have great players that could implement that game-plan, but when you look at Ireland and where they got to, successfully beating the All Blacks, I felt they needed to create something that the rest of the world hadn't seen and they didn't.
"They came out and played the same game-plan they had been playing, the All Blacks came out and analysed it, they've been beaten by it before and they were aware of what Ireland would bring and they didn't bring anything different.
"I hadn't seen any evidence during the build-up to the Rugby World Cup or during the pool stages when Japan knocked them over to show that they had evolved."
Marshall believes Schmidt’s conservative tactics and decision to stick with a restrictive game-plan was based on his lack of faith in the players.
"Possibly he was playing to what he felt were the team's strengths,” he said.
"Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton, when they're given a certain calibre of tool in their shed, they can use that tool very well.
"But, I don't know whether or not it was risky to evolve too much and a winning formula is a winning formula and it had been successful.
"The warning signs for me were the Six Nations, November was pretty good and they took the All Blacks again but they went to the Six Nations and they were poor.
"It's like, right, OK - we beat the All Blacks and had a poor Six Nations so we need to change things up and they didn't.
"They showed nothing in their warm-up games that they had changed from the Six Nations, then they showed exactly nothing different in the pool stages.
"Can I put my finger on it that it was Joe Schmidt? I don't think he's a coach that doesn't want to be creative and doesn't want to evolve.
"It has to fall back to him thinking that this is what he had to work with, yet this is what he selected, so this is all he can do.
"The tactic with Conor Murray kicking, etc that worked so very well two years ago - World Rugby changed the laws so that you had to protect the player in the air.
"All of a sudden, the 50/50s that Ireland were winning by kicking and getting the ball back - they weren't getting it back anymore. Yet, they were still doing the same thing.
"That's a big issue in terms of the warning signs being there but there was no want to evolve and change things."
Like Stephen Donald, Marshall believes there is still a place for Schmidt in New Zealand rugby despite the way things ended for the now former Ireland coach.
"I hope so. I've always banged the drum that we need great minds in the game in our country. At the moment, we don't have them. If you look across the board around the world, a lot of our minds are coaching outside New Zealand," he said.
"People will go, 'Why do we want Warren Gatland back?' but I'm thinking, 'Are you serious?' Here's a guy that has successfully coached Wales to their best-ever winning record and the British & Irish Lions, and he can come back to our country and tell us exactly what teams do to beat us. He can give us all of that information. Why don't we want to dig into that?
"Joe is the same. He's done one thing that has never been done in Irish rugby before, he's beaten the All Blacks and he's done it twice. How did you do it, mate? Why did you look at it and think, 'This is how we beat them.'
"Let's have that info on our doorstep rather than someone else's, so hopefully we get all of them back. Jamie Joseph in as well!"
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