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Rugby World Cup: Joe Schmidt should echo Doyle's class of '85 to catch Southern kings

By Tony Ward

What a weekend of World Cup rugby. There was no Six Nations presence, but the Southern Hemisphere's finest produced a brand of rugby that left the rest to sigh a collective "what if?" and "if only".

But therein lies the rub: almost every other team, certainly the Six Nations sides, could play like that if they were prepared to trade short-term pain for longer-term gain.

However, taking issue with the way we play rugby in Ireland does not equate to criticism of Joe Schmidt.

Our head coach has had a comfortable ride until now for the simple reason that he has earned it.

Despite the disappointing finale to a World Cup venture which promised so much, Irish rugby is fortunate to have one of the best coaches in the world.

With Leinster and Ireland, Schmidt has had to cut his cloth in very different ways.

At Leinster, it was the best of Puma and All Black rugby combined, albeit a level down.

At Ireland, it is about playing to your limited strengths, cutting down space, stifling the opposition through relentless intensity and using aerial bombardment as an attacking ploy.

I am not going to labour the point, but despite winning back-to-back Six Nations, I hate the way we play - and the message it sends out.

While I accept we are not comparing like with like, for those around long enough to remember, think back to Mick Doyle's table-topping, Triple Crown-winning team of 1985 (of which I was not a member).

Their brand of winning rugby was a joy to behold. To describe it merely as 'give it a lash rugby' does it a disservice.

Much method, and yes a little madness, went into making that expansive team.

It was a side picked to play winning rugby in a specific way. I seem to recall a banner at one of the matches that year suggesting an "Irish brain transplant under Dr Doyle".

If it takes a similar brain transplant under Dr Schmidt (a coach better equipped than Doyler was) to take our rugby into the same sphere as the Rugby Championship, so be it.

Of course, the principle of earning the right to go wide still applies.

I am not advocating a Barbarian tip-rugby extravaganza, but I came across this short blog that perfectly captures what we need to do:

"A decent start might be: 1) Stop Conor Murray box-kicking all the time; in fact, everyone kick the ball away less.

2) Allow players to offload in the tackle instead of endless phases going nowhere which ends in a kick anyway.

3) Play with less bosh in general and get more pace and width in our game.

That requires trust between the IRFU and coach, and between coach and players. It requires a change in mindset and change in rugby culture.

The underage talent is in place, and there is no excuse for not using it. Players like Garry Ringrose, Billy Dardis, Calvin Nash and Stephen Fitzgerald should be the creative headline-makers of tomorrow.

In his heart I know Schmidt agrees with this, but the terms of his employment allied to his professionalism dictates that he will try and win any which way.

We know what he can do and how he can do it, based on what he inherited and what he achieved with Leinster.

Equally we have accepted the 'sow's ear principle' and basked in the glory of what he has managed in the past two years, but if we are genuine in our desire to follow what Argentina have done, then Cardiff 2015 - just like Lens 1999 - should represent a watershed.

But good though the Pumas were, the Wallabies were even better again, with David Pocock and Michael Hooper sublime.

So too Bernard Foley, Scott Fardy, Matt Giteau, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Drew Mitchell.

I wonder how Stuart Lancaster feels watching Toulon exiles Giteau and Mitchell making the impact they have. Will England rethink their policy on picking foreign-based players?

Michael Cheika take a bow. But so too Argentina coach Daniel Hourcade and every last Puma standing. They were heroic in defeat.

There's no doubt that the best two sides are through to the final. New Zealand outscored South Africa by two tries to nil, and Australia outscored the Pumas four tries to nil.

It should be some finale. The All Blacks are still the best all round team and still have that ability over and above the ordinary to go that extra mile and in Dan Carter the man to choose the appropriate route.

He was brilliant again on Saturday, with his superbly taken drop-goal changing the course of the arm-wrestle.

Ben Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Sam Whitelock and Jerome Kaino were brilliant when it mattered. The Richie McCaw 'elbow' accusations were absolute nonsense.

The ultimate stage is now set for the ultimate players.

Belfast Telegraph


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