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'They don't want to be sat in a classroom' - How Andy Farrell changed Ireland's 'Monday morning review'


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Max Deegan going through his paces during Ireland’s training session yesterday at the IRFU High Performance Centre in Abbotstown. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Max Deegan going through his paces during Ireland’s training session yesterday at the IRFU High Performance Centre in Abbotstown. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Max Deegan going through his paces during Ireland’s training session yesterday at the IRFU High Performance Centre in Abbotstown. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

The words seemed so incongruous, it needed revisiting after the press conference. Conor Murray was talking about Andy Farrell's Monday morning review and he said it was "good fun".

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Joe Schmidt's video sessions were legendary, almost infamous. During his team's pomp, the forensic detail and unsparing analysis was hailed as a key part of the regime's success.

Players spoke in hushed tones about them, they described them using plenty of different terms. They never sounded fun.

Part of the change has come about as a result of Farrell's desire to shake things up.

Also, and perhaps more pertinently, the IRFU's new indoor facility at the National Sports Campus in Abbotstown has afforded him the option of a more dynamic option.

So, instead of sitting in a stuffy, darkened room at Carton House, Ireland's players gather on the side of the pitch where there's a big screen set up.

They'll review an incident from the previous game and go through what went right and what went wrong.

Rather than move on to the next thing, they then jump up and head out on to the pitch to put it right before they return to the screen.

Farrell is hoping it empowers the players.

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Andy Farrell. Photo: Sportsfile

Andy Farrell. Photo: Sportsfile

"We're trying to make it inclusive, get some proper feedback, get them talking," he said. "They're the guys out there on the field, they know exactly the feeling of what went on.

"We're watching from the stand or on the video. We've got a good idea, can we marry that up together? It was a great morning on Monday morning.

"The facility enables us to do things a little bit differently which is quite nice. Our guys are rugby players, they don't just want to be sat in a classroom the whole time. They want to be fixing things out on the pitch and the facility helps us do that."

Farrell is trying to encourage this team to find their own voice.

Under Schmidt there was a sense that the direction all came from the top and, when the chips were down at the World Cup, they couldn't find their own solutions.

While senior players could offer an opinion in reviews, it was very much the Joe show. Now, the floor is open regardless of whether you're a Lion or a cub.

It mirrors the way New Zealand did things under Kieran Read as they moved on from their World Cup winners of 2011 and 2015.

In the early years, there was a defined hierarchy in the All Black dressing-room, but when the No 8 took over from Richie McCaw he insisted on a flat structure that meant the least-experienced player was encouraged to challenge the senior men in an open and honest dialogue.

"Inclusivity" has been one of Farrell's main phrases during his time in charge so far.

"There is a different mentality around the place," Iain Henderson said. "There is a different mentality in meetings. There is a different relationship between players and coaches. There is a different relationship between players and players going over stuff together.

"Everything that's done is done in a real positive manner... Maybe, in years gone by, guys might be a wee bit tentative of who they asked questions to or who they are trying to get clarity (from) for fear of people thinking they don't know their detail, they don't know stuff. But now there is a very open learning system, I would say, (that) has been put in place to ensure guys are free to get information whenever they want."

Involving and empowering the players has been a key theme.

"It was good fun, yeah," Murray recalled. "If there's a mistake there's a serious point to it, but there's a bit of craic about it, too.

"People are competing against each other and there's a bit of craic about that, too, so everything is quite open in our environment, which is really good and allows you to get on with the task in hand.

"Especially here in Abbotstown, it's quite free-flowing. You have the TV there beside the indoor pitch, you can look at a few clips and turn around and rep something. Then come back to the video.

"A jog-through we had on Monday morning was like that. A few clips, then turn around and work on whatever we had talked about. Then we had the classroom (portion) as well."

By the sounds of things, they had plenty to get through as they picked through the footage of Saturday's win over Scotland and moved the focus to this week's crucial round-two clash with a Welsh team that kept them scoreless for 83 minutes in last year's Six Nations.

The coach spoke about improving his team's decision-making, about finding solutions to their problems at scrum-time and improving their contact work.

Farrell knows his side can't afford Wales the same sort of time in their own 22 as they did the wasteful Scots.

"We've been over that this morning," Farrell (below) said. "There was a mixed bag of the reasons why they got into our 22, whether it be from execution or a poor decision or a penalty - going off our feet, I remember that - or a couple of poor kicks allowed them in there even at the start of the game.

"They flowed into our 22 and camped down there for quite some time. I've always said, obviously I've been a defence coach for a long time, that Scotland are unbelievably hard to defend against. They've a box of tricks and they're really threatening and we saw that at times.

"We had to stand for something at the weekend and the true grit that I mentioned after the game, when our backs were to the wall a little bit, we managed to dig deep and make those two-men hits and slow the ball down.

"Having said that, again, we've been honest with our review and said that it was good, but it needs to be better."

Rather than go to the referees to seek clarity on scrum issues that saw Cian Healy concede penalties, Farrell is looking to his props and coach John Fogarty to solve the problem.

"We know our own stuff and what we need to fix. We've had a really good scrummaging session and hopefully there are a few fixes there," he said.

"They're a proud bunch, those front five of ours, and I'm sure they'll be fine at the weekend."

He's picked a Schmidt team, but he's hoping his un-Schmidt-like methods can help Ireland rediscover their form.

Johnny Sexton starred on his first outing as permanent Ireland captain, scoring every point in a tense victory over Scotland with a try and four penalties. It comes as he returns to play after weeks of recovery from a knee injury.

Irish Independent