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Alison Miller: 'Less structure and more width is key to leaving the past behind'

Alison Miller


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'I’m excited to see what Mike Catt can bring to Ireland’s attack.' Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

'I’m excited to see what Mike Catt can bring to Ireland’s attack.' Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

'I’m excited to see what Mike Catt can bring to Ireland’s attack.' Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

They say change is inevitable, growth is optional, and for me the most exciting part of this year's Six Nations will be seeing if those can co-exist at the same time.

By now the World Cup hangover has fully lifted and a new era is upon us. There's a blank canvas waiting to be filled, and endless possibilities about its future design.

Few could argue that the World Cup exposed a dire need for a different approach, and that's what we've got: there have been changes in management, changes to the squad, changes in training location and some more subtle changes that show a willingness to freshen up.

I, for one, am glad the players have relocated to Abbotstown. Call me old-fashioned, but this is the right environment - a better training base than Carton House.

Attritional Two of the main problems in the World Cup were our attritional style and the failure to show a good skill-set in attack. On that front, I'm excited to see Mike Catt join the management. He was a very astute player in his day who liked to play with the ball and as an attack coach, he's renowned for pushing players' skill levels, encouraging them to make their own decisions.

However, embedding that mindset in the players won't happen overnight. It will evolve as he works with them and the fruits of his labour will likely take time to appear.

Can Ireland freshen up their attack and play attractive rugby? Can they do what they didn't in the World Cup: take advantage and exploit opportunities the opposition present? In Japan, Ireland seemed unwilling or unable to recognise or exploit these opportunities. That simply has to change.

Their performances will come under major scrutiny but it's worth remembering this is international rugby - it takes time for major changes to take effect.

What will be worth noting is if the players shake off the anxiety they had in the World Cup. Can they be part of a team with an atmosphere where they can perform and enjoy what they are doing?

This was so missing in Japan and it will be vital if they are to leave the past behind. There are signs this is happening, like the early team announcement this week, which puts players' minds at ease as the clock ticks towards kick-off.

What's more important: to win or to change? For me, it's crucial they can do both. I'm encouraged to see that form has been rewarded with Caelan Doris, Jordan Larmour and Andrew Conway starting.

This can only be a good thing because it puts an onus on everyone to be their best every week. You're given a start when it's deserved and, as a result, players are desperate to do what they need to hold on to it.

Conversely, those who don't start will know if they regain form they will come back in. That keeps morale high and for me, with the exception of John Cooney's omission, it's a fair squad. I would like to see him come in on the 50-minute mark regardless of how the game is going. Given his form, he deserves time to showcase his ability.

There will be some challenges facing Andy Farrell. He's been in assistant roles for most of his coaching career and it will be important he gets off to a winning start. He'll want to create separation from Joe Schmidt's regime and make this side his own.

He has an advantage as he knows the players and what they need. Having witnessed the Schmidt approach first-hand, there will be things he might keep but he will certainly have his own ideas.

Time will tell if this is a more positive Ireland team in terms of style, performance and success, but there are reasons to be excited.

Positivity

Leinster and Ulster have consistently shown their ability which will hopefully have a knock-on effect on the national team. Leinster's style of play and the number of players they have within the squad should filter some much-needed positivity into the set-up.

In terms of today's result, it's hard to gauge exactly what it means for the Six Nations. It is always tough to predict after the first set of games, but what today will show is the quality in each side and if they have confidence and energy.

That, more than anything, is what these players need to get back to resume winning ways.

If they have more ownership of what they do through less structured play and get some more width on their game - something that was lacking in 2019 - chances are they'll play with a lot more enjoyment.

That's step one - and probably the most important one of all.

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