Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

Gavin Mairs: Genesis is hardly the beginning of new era

As Robert Louis Stevenson once said: everybody, sooner or later, will sit down to a banquet of consequences.

I was reminded of this quotation from the Scottish novelist this week during an in-depth discussion about the current problems facing Irish rugby and the men empowered to make decisions on its behalf.

There can be no doubt that the boom years of this decade are well and truly over for the game on this island and never before have the IRFU faced more crucial decisions to make at both national and provincial level.

The strong currents of professionalism have ensured that the landscape is constantly changing - both in terms of playing power and financial muscle - and there is a danger that without robust, enlightened and shrewd leadership, Irish rugby may get left behind.

But the IRFU's reaction to the World Cup shambles, when Ireland so spectacularly blew their chances with the so-called 'golden generation' has offered little hope on that front.

To me, the sole objective of the Genesis Report seems to have been to delay the consequences' banquet of the decision to hand Eddie O'Sullivan a four-year extension to his contract before a ball was kicked at the World Cup.

To be fair to the Union, at the time discussions with O'Sullivan began, he had just guided Ireland to a third Triple Crown and was being talked of in wide circles as the Lions coach in-waiting.

Yet even at the time, such a long extension to a coach who was gearing up for his seventh year at the helm and was still contracted until the end of this season, looked misjudged.

And when the wheels fell off with such disastrous consequences at the World Cup - the ultimate testing ground for both players and coaches - the IRFU should have simply put their hand up, admitted their mistake and made a change.

Or at least, as New Zealand did with Graham Henry, have made O'Sullivan re-apply for his job.

Instead, almost three months after the defeat to Argentina that consigned Ireland to the World Cup rubbish dump, the review by Genesis, who incidentally were involved in the process to draw up Ireland's eight-year strategic plan in 2003, has just muddled the situation further.

The recommendations to appoint a manager, a backs coach - which is O'Sullivan's area of expertise - and a psychologist, effectively will severely clip the Ireland's coach wings but without getting to the heart of the problem.

O'Sullivan spent the last six years increasing his powerbase and control of Team Ireland and enjoyed more resources and player access than any coach before him.

To then simply blame a lack of big match practice for Ireland's woeful performance, despite having had a four-year run-in, and attribute collective responsibility when the report's recommendations effectively reflect that O'Sullivan had too much control over the team affairs, is at best contradictory.

The reality is that should Ireland win less than three or possibly even four games in their Six Nations campaign, O'Sullivan is likely to go anyway and, interestingly, the new appointments won't be made until after the tournament.

Closer to home, the appointment of the new Ulster coach is also the Ulster Branch power-brokers' biggest and most crucial decision of the professional era, given the dire straits that the team find themselves in and given the number of key players considering their futures.

A wrong decision now and the consequences could make for a foul-tasting fare.

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