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Who is the innovator in Ireland's coaching ticket that can reimagine our style of play?

Neil Francis


Ireland coach Andy Farrell

Ireland coach Andy Farrell

�INPHO/James Crombie

Top class: Munster coach Stephen Larkham could add a lot at international level

Top class: Munster coach Stephen Larkham could add a lot at international level

�INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

Stuart Lancaster

Stuart Lancaster

�INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Ireland coach Andy Farrell

Right now for sport, and particularly for rugby, the current hiatus is an opportunity - a time for contemplative thought.

When most unions around the world are looking to reboot and refinance their organisations, the people they employ as coaches should be reflecting on the game, looking to refine and even re-imagine what it should be.

With three months of no rugby and no pre-season or additional fitness to attend to, they should be looking to move away from the conventional and change the way that the game is played.

There are three reasons why they should do this. One is because there are five months of hard-surface summer rugby coming.

The second reason is that there are new laws coming next season which have been trialled in France and Australia and will, I am certain, be cast in stone for the campaign after and they will be a game-changer.

The last imperative is that the game has become hard to watch and there is a need for change, a need for innovation. Steve Jobs said "innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower".

Who are these sides that we should be looking at? Well, they are the two sides who beat us in the World Cup in 2019 - the Japanese and the All Blacks.

Ireland, purely on the basis of three Six Nations matches, are playing a stock and conventional form of the game. Two wins against the Welsh and the Scots and a good thumping at Twickenham.

If the Championship had continued, my assertion is that we would have put 40 points on the Italians at home and lost by about a dozen points in Paris. For the unambitious, three home victories would have been enough but the point is the French have found themselves again on the back of a reconfiguration and new thinking on how they play.

The English have our number now and know well how to beat us. They also have become the best passing side in the Six Nations. It is funny and not a little strange that they still struggle to put the Welsh away given that we seem to have the Welsh all ends up.

I look at our coaching ticket and see that we are the only major rugby nation left with a League convert as our head coach.

I do not see any value in what all these League coaches have brought to the game. Nearly everything about them is defensive minded. Even the cross kicks were a Union gambit long before League picked up on it.

I look at the ticket of Andy Farrell, Simon Easterby, Mike Catt, John Fogarty and maybe the possible exception of Richie Murphy. Who is doing the thinking? Are there any innovators in that particular crew - anyone who can re-imagine the type of game that Ireland should be playing?

I figure that Ireland will be chasing France and England for some time to come and that they will struggle against South Africa and New Zealand where laterally it would have been seen from an Irish perspective that it was game on.

Even the lamentable Australians and re-emerging Argentinians will fancy themselves against an Ireland side that is just too conventional. An Ireland team that, going forward, settles for process and routine over skills and dexterity - bashing and bulking over handling and speed of thought.

The only deep thinkers that I see on this island are Stuart Lancaster and Stephen Larkham.

Lancaster may be a little regimented and provincial rugby is a very different game to Test rugby but I think, despite the continuous travelling, he is looking for and should be given another chance at this level.

If you asked me as a player who would I prefer to be calling the shots, a personality coach or an intelligent coach, I would take the latter. Lancaster is more than smart enough to be Ireland's coach.

In relation to Larkham, he may not be head coach calibre right now but anybody who played for the Brumbies, whose style of play that he eschewed, should be given high responsibility. His influence in Munster is perceptible and is percolating through the squad but there may be a clash of cultures with Johan van Grann.

Munster may not like it, but Larkham should be brought into the national team. He is the best passer of a ball that I have ever seen and there are too many in Ireland's back field who cannot pass properly off either hand for this particular level.

The new rules - the 50/20 rule and the tackle at waist level - should reward sides that can pass accurately and effectively at pace and that can offload with ease.

The time to improve at these skill levels is not when the laws come into effect but right now rather than sending our players into the gym during this break to get bigger and stronger.

Progress lies not in enhancing what is happening now but in advancing forward what will be. Who is doing the thinking?

Belfast Telegraph