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Brian O'Driscoll: Why John Cooney's Ireland frustrations could continue during 2020 Six Nations

 

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Big game player: John Cooney can make a big impact from the bench, says Brian O’Driscoll

Big game player: John Cooney can make a big impact from the bench, says Brian O’Driscoll

Brian O'Driscoll

Brian O'Driscoll

Big game player: John Cooney can make a big impact from the bench, says Brian O’Driscoll

A new era signals significant public demand for towering castles soaring skyward, but beware the building without a solid foundation.

Brian O'Driscoll is keenly aware of that seemingly insatiable quest for Ireland's succession plan to embrace a boldness of vision that was sorely lacking during their timid World Cup exit.

Like awaiting the perfectly poured pint, however, time and patience is required. Joe Schmidt's legacy may not have been a beautiful game but for so many years it was a remorselessly winning one.

Which is why Ireland's greatest ever player feels that two of his surviving contemporaries, the ageing and yet ageless half-back constants of Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton, must start the 2020 Guinness Six Nations against Scotland in five days' time.

Sexton's position has not been in too much peril but the clamour to dump Murray has been cacophonous from the bleachers and bar stools.

"You've got to be careful about how many people you blood at one time in the key positions and half-back is vital," stressed O'Driscoll. "There's a lot to be said about experience and it was vital for Conor to have that great game for Munster last time out. For the last year or 18 months, he hasn't been the Conor of the last seven or eight.

"But even so, a lot of the time his 70-80 per cent is most people's 100 per cent. There's a confidence and a calmness you get with him and an understanding that he knows how to work a team around the park.

"His box-kicking is still unrivalled and he has that uncanny ability to relieve pressure from his out-half. Defensively, I think he's the smartest at being able to understand where to plug the relevant holes. He's got a wicked pass.

"Lately, it's just his box-kicking at times has been a little bit off, his passing hasn't been as crisp. He hasn't identified the breaks that he would have once done but it seems to be coming back.

"Then you've got John Cooney, who is in a rich vein of form but he lacks that experience to be able to control a game properly.

"There's a lot of focus and pressure put through him in Ulster. He's delivering with that but I just fancy in his first real Six Nations opportunity now, he'll find himself in the substitutes to begin with and get some game time over the course of the next seven weeks."

 

As in life, so too in rugby must heady idealism act as midwife to a partially restrained sense of pragmatism. Even the unstructured chaos beloved of Leinster does not occur by happenstance, but rather on the back of repetition; Ireland simply have not had enough time to effect a playing revolution. Yet.

"That's something that the public don't really pay heed to," said O'Driscoll, whose 26 tries are the most scored by any Irishman in the Championship.

"They have had three days together at Christmas, this week and then they start playing international rugby next week. To look at a new style of playing, it's a very difficult thing to put together.

"That's why it's such a difficult role being an international coach. You spend all this time watching games and planning.

"But then to actually put it into practice is a difficult concept, because you're confined to such a limited time in terms of interacting with the players."

Change will happen, as inevitably it must; Moliere, the French playwright - as opposed to Moliere the French scrum-half - reminds us the trees that grow slower always bear the best fruit.

And Farrell must dictate a game plan without being a dictator.

"It's a tricky balance because he has to be authoritative and stamp his style but also give players an opportunity to express themselves," noted the former midfielder.

"It appears as if they felt confined in terms of the way they wanted to play the game and it became too structured.

"So you've got to give players a chance, particularly some of the footballers that we do have when you look at key positions.

"Conor and Johnny both spring to mind, given their ability to read the situation as it unfolds.

"And when you have players that are capable of doing that, who aren't robotic and aren't just system players, you've got to play to their strengths. That's why I think you'll see those two starting, because their ability to be able to dictate play as it unfolds is what differentiates them from lots of other internationals."

Farrell's breathing space is limited as he adjusts to a new life, a new vision.

Both his predecessors claimed titles in their rookie campaigns; they both enjoyed what the Englishman did not, a November acclimatisation.

O'Driscoll feels three home wins are a necessity; one away win an opportunity. No pressure.

Brian O'Driscoll has teamed up with Guinness to launch a host of Guinness Six Nations experiences which celebrate a fusion of the six competing nations-inspired cultures through events available to the public.

√ Jonathan Joseph insists England have refused to allow the Saracens salary cap scandal to divide the squad, knowing any festering resentment could derail their Six Nations title bid.

The World Cup runners-up launch their campaign against France in Paris on Sunday having reassured the seven-strong Saracens contingent there is no anger over their club exceeding the ceiling for player wages for five of the last seven seasons.

England enter the Six Nations as clear favourites but Joseph insists history has shown Eddie Jones' men the vulnerabilities that can be exposed by disharmony.

"We have had a meeting and the Saracens situation got brought up. It's not a problem, we are on England duty now and we have to be a team," the Bath centre said.

"We remember from the past that when we have not been all on the same page and following the same dream, we have come apart and lost games that we should have won.

"We know what our primary focus is - to play for England and put together good results. The club stuff is put to one side. I don't believe it is the players' fault, so why would I have issues with it?"

England have also began healing the wounds left by their 32-12 defeat to South Africa in Japan almost three months ago with the help of team psychologist Andrea Furst.

An otherwise outstanding tournament ended in bitter failure, but for Joseph the two months spent in Japan demonstrated the value of having a happy squad.

"The group we had at the World Cup, we got so close during the time we had together. I thoroughly enjoyed every step of that journey," Joseph said.

"We didn't quite play the way we wanted to in the final, but we played some great rugby in the tournament.

"From day one we worked so hard and you're going to have the odd bad game and unfortunately for us that was in the final. But you take the learnings from it, move on and that's life. We played poorly in the final and didn't play in the way we had done previously.

"We didn't put pressure on South Africa. We didn't prepare any differently that week, but too many of us had off days that day."

Saracens' first Premiership match since they accepted automatic relegation ended in heavy defeat as Harlequins eased to a 41-14 win at the Stoop.

Belfast Telegraph