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Why Ireland are hoping Andy Farrell proves more Bob Paisley than David Moyes as he steps up to replace Schmidt

International rugby

By Jonathan Bradley

Ireland may have had the All Blacks' number in Dublin two weekends ago, but in so many ways New Zealand still provide the blueprint for success.

In 2011, having managed to lift a World Cup despite pulling their out-half from his holidays to win the final, the Kiwis were back on top, once again at the pinnacle of the sport.

Their coach Graham Henry, despite having one poor showing at the global tournament blot his copybook, had brought them back to the promised land and was in possession of a once-in-a-generation group of players.

It was then that he stepped aside.

The World Cup is still to come for Ireland but, after yesterday's confirmation, they already know that their hugely decorated coach Joe Schmidt will be walking away once the tournament in Japan is over, and that his successor, Andy Farrell, will come from the soon-to-be former head man's coaching ticket.

When New Zealand replaced Henry, they did so with his assistant Steve Hansen. What followed was another World Cup and seat at the table when the greatest team of all time is debated. It's a formula they seem set to employ again with, now that Schmidt is seemingly out of the picture, Ian Foster the favourite to succeed Hansen should he also take his leave next year.

While to suggest Ireland can go to another level post-Schmidt just as the All Blacks did after Henry is both unrealistic and unfair on Farrell, the IRFU have adopted the same approach.

As a coach walks away at the peak of his powers, rather than being pushed with his team on the decline, replicating as much as possible from the successful environment is a natural inclination.

It was no surprise to see yesterday morning's statement from the IRFU's High Performance Director David Nucifora cite "continuity" as a huge benefit of Farrell's appointment.

"We are incredibly fortunate to have a coach of the calibre of Andy Farrell in Irish Rugby," read the statement. "He has proven through his work ethic and success with Ireland and the Lions over the last number of years that he is the person to take Irish Rugby forward after RWC 2019.

"The close working relationship that our current coaching group have and what they will continue to gain over the next year with Joe still at the helm leaves Andy and Irish Rugby in the enviable position of having continuity before building the road forward.

"This appointment provides certainty and continuity beyond RWC19 with Andy leading the coaching group through the next World Cup cycle to the 2023 tournament in France. The coaching group are contracted beyond next year's World Cup which again provides continuity for the players ahead of the 2020 Six Nations Championship."

Farrell will, of course, be his own man, and plenty have proven already the jump from career assistant to head man is a tough one to balance, especially having never held the role before.

Farrell, whose son Owen may well captain the opposition when Ireland next play and receive a Six Nations visit from England, is another defence coach who can be considered a product of League rather than Union.

A two-time winner of the prestigious Man of Steel award, he is a legend at his hometown club of Wigan having won his first Challenge Cup at the tender age of 17.

While he captained both England and Great Britain in the other code, he made the switch to the 15-man game in 2005 at the age of 30, signing for Saracens.

In a row that echoed Sam Burgess, who would later resurface as a point of contention during his time as an English coach, there was serious debate over his best position in the new sport. While Saracens deployed him as a flanker, he made his Test debut at a centre. He never truly recaptured his league form, though, and won just eight caps before hanging up his boots.

His move into coaching was immediate, working with Ulsterman Mark McCall at Saracens before joining Stuart Lancaster on the national ticket in the summer of 2012.

There were highs with the Red Rose, beating the All Blacks in his first autumn and a successful involvement in the 2013 Lions tour to Australia to name but two, but ultimately Lancaster and his coaches were judged by their dismal failure at the home World Cup of 2015.

When Eddie Jones came in to replace Lancaster, it was always going to be curtains for his assistants too. Farrell, though, was not to be out of work for long with Ireland soon coming calling with the opportunity to fill the vacancy left by Les Kiss' move to Ulster.

Gardening leave prevented him from immediately taking up his post, but his first involvement with the side saw a piece of history with a first ever Irish win on South African soil.

His reputation was quickly rebuilt after the unsavoury fall-out from England's World Cup failure and, even taking into consideration last year's Grand Slam, his stock has been enhanced most significantly by meetings with the All Blacks.

After the shredding of Ireland's defence by Argentina in the 2015 World Cup, he brought an increased attention to linespeed and aggressiveness, while he has been cited as an attentive coach who has given players like Jacob Stockdale an added confidence in defence.

A straight-talker, he noticeably bristles when the term 'All Blacks slayer' is bandied about, but with England, Ireland, the Lions and Ireland again, he has enjoyed more success against his incarnation of the sport's best side than any other coach.

Indeed, the last two defences to hold Hansen's men without a try - the Lions in 2017 and Ireland two weeks ago - were both designed by Farrell. Arguably nobody received more individual praise than he for the 16-9 win in the Aviva Stadium.

A figure with the standing of Lawrence Dallaglio was as recently as Sunday bemoaning his loss to English Rugby, even if they tried in vain to get him back last summer.

Instead, yesterday he was speaking of his pride to be named Schmidt's successor.

"It is a privilege to be considered for such a prestigious role," he said in a brief statement.

"I have learned a lot from Joe over the past few seasons and I will continue to learn from him over the next year as the coaching group and players focus on competing in two huge tournaments in 2019."

In that regard, Farrell is already one step ahead of any coach who could have been coming from the outside. He already has the trust of this player group.

Jonny Sexton, who cited Schmidt as the biggest influence on his career when picking up the World Rugby Player of the Year award on Sunday, has recently spoken of his influence.

"Andy has been massive for Irish rugby," reflected the out-half. "To have him in your side, coming into big weeks like this (recent game v New Zealand) is massive. It gives the guys confidence. He knows what it is going to take and will explain to us."

He'll know too how much work it will take to fill the void that has been left in Irish Rugby.

The success enjoyed in the Schmidt years has been unprecedented. The IRFU's hope as they look to replace the irreplaceable is that Farrell proves to be Bob Paisley to the Kiwi's Bill Shankly.

The nightmare scenario for anyone anointed to fill such large boots, of course, is that they become the rugby equivalent of Sir Alex Ferguson's David Moyes.

Belfast Telegraph

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