Tony Ward: Ireland must have licence to thrill
With the lid now screwed firmly on and all the hype surrounding selection under control it’s time for the chosen few to deliver.
We all have our take on what Declan Kidney should and could have done in moving from World Cup to Six Nations but once the team to bridge that gap was named there was a general acceptance of a side as close as doesn’t matter to the best available.
The proof of the pudding will of course be in the eating with the result as ever the very bottom line.
Kidney has picked a team to do a job, but as ever much will depend on the quality of go forward ball and given the presence of one Sam Warburton that is a battle of coaching wits in itself.
What the Welsh think tank did in negating the Irish backrow in Wellington while simple in design was exceptional in its execution.
Now the onus is on Kidney, Gert Smal, Les Kiss and Mark Tainton to reverse that key difference if victory is to be the net return tomorrow.
What Wales did in cutting down Stephen Ferris, Sean O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip low and at source wasn’t rocket science but what really rankled was that the outstanding Warburton still had the energy and wherewithal to make himself the free roaming nuisance all opposing backs hate.
To that end tying Warburton down will have been central to Ireland’s forward planning this past week.
Quite what that will entail we’ll leave to Smal as governor of the tight and breakdown. Unless the Welsh skipper can be actively engaged in primary contact the knock on will be immense. And here for sure we are hoping for real change and definitive signs of a new era in the attacking back-play of our national team.
Save for the cross field kick to Tommy Bowe and Andrew Trimble (Shane Horgan too before them) allied to a myriad of Brian O’Driscoll tries, plus the occasional Jonny Sexton wrap around the innovative element to our attacking game has regressed in recent times.
We are not nit-picking here but when it comes to precision in execution and innovation under pressure we are struggling to stay the pace with the top tier of the global game.
To that end the re-jigging of defence coach Kiss, kicking coach Tainton along with overall strategist Kidney as an attack focused combination will be interesting to say the least.
Every coach whatever his specialist area has a limited shelf life. To that end given his long term involvement with Leinster (as assistant to Matt Williams) with Munster (as main man) and with Ireland (as back coach) Alan Gaffney’s relationship with the same players has been nigh on relentless for the best part of a decade even allowing for a Wallaby spell mixed in. Coaches, much like players, need change.
Change to recharge the batteries and in some ways reinvent themselves to the needs and demands of ever tightening defences.
I am still of the opinion that a French attacking coach could prove a Godsend to Irish rugby. Equally Joe Schmidt has been a revelation albeit at Leinster to flair and creativity.
While Gaffney was good for Irish rugby he knew he had reached the end of his time. The changing of the guard while timely is also fraught with danger given the presence (as I understand it) of three now effectively calling the backline shots. Factor in the enforced absence of O’Driscoll and it adds up to far greater responsibility resting on the shoulders of Jonny Sexton in the pivotal position. At this stage in his career that in itself is no bad thing.
Whereas Gaffney (in liason with Kidney) was the lone attacking voice that responsibility is now shared. The last thing we need is a committee deciding who does what and where behind the scrum.
Luke Fitzgerald has that innate ability to create space and thereby time and opportunities for others and I would also like to see Rob Kearney hit the line with the same type of assurance and regularity he has for Leinster of late. Putting defensive systems in place is a doddle when measured against prizing them open hence the battering ram approach rather than key to pick the midfield lock.
We are so much better than a side built around stopping the opposition playing, kicking for position followed by a mighty pressure squeeze to eke out penalties for our points.
Not for a minute am I suggesting a laissez-faire approach to tomorrow’s momentum setting must win showdown. What I am saying unequivocally is that the new attacking backroom triumvirate gives the players carte blanche for heads up rugby.
Without wishing to be overly simplistic minus the attacking aspiration we are boxing ourselves into a fear ridden corner. Yes of necessity we will play the opposition and the conditions but in the final analysis it is how we go about doing our business to the max of our ability.
We have lost sight of our attacking potential. Winning tomorrow is paramount and while we are not craving style as an end in itself we are seeking a return to ambition.
As Schmidt has shown at Leinster if the will is there then so too is the talent.
Players make systems and not vice- versa. Win tomorrow and we’re on our Six Nations way. Win with ambition and we head for Paris with a swagger.