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Why we're so Keane on that other new coach

Despite the Guinness Series internationals taking centre stage, most media attention has focused firmly on the appointment of Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane as Republic of Ireland manager and assistant respectively to the FAI.

Given the backdrop, the wall to wall coverage is totally understandable. Whatever else, football life for the immediate future won't be dull under the new dynamic duo.

John Delaney and the FAI knew what they were getting into in terms of off the field interest and while it's very early days yet the signs are good in that regard. So for the FAI the new broom and all that entails was part of the plan.

By contrast, in appointing Joe Schmidt as new head coach to the national rugby team, Philip Browne and the IRFU were appointing the best man for the top position in the best place at the right time.

Unlike the FAI, where there were other options, the IRFU was working primarily off 'the bleedingly obvious' in their quest.

Schmidt was so far ahead as the new mentor in waiting that the race to succeed Declan Kidney was over before it began.

What you see with Schmidt is what you get. Here for sure was a safe pair of hands but much more than that – based on his two team selections to date – a new coach for whom the terms dull, predictable or conservative just don't apply.

It's one thing to say how well guys are going in training, quite another backing that stock assertion by way of selection when the time comes to declare your hand.

So if six changes in personnel plus one positional switch on the back of your team posting a record winning margin in your first game in charge doesn't indicate a much changed working environment under a much more liberal management then I don't know what does.

Three of those changes – Jonny Sexton, Cian Healy and Sean O'Brien for Paddy Jackson, Jack McGrath and Chris Henry – were utterly predictable, but I defy anyone to name a previous Ireland coach who would have opted for Luke Marshall, Eoin Reddan and Devin Toner instead of Gordon D'Arcy, Conor Murray and Mike McCarthy wearing 12, nine and four respectively.

D'Arcy like most everybody else put in a productive second half against the Samoans but his first half performance left a lot to be desired. He knows that better than any. Marshall has been going particularly well for Ulster and is now a permanent fixture in the side.

He has we are reliably informed reproduced that consistency on a daily basis in camp so on the basis of lining out in midfield beside the greatest player this country has ever produced Schmidt has opted to avail of that experienced opportunity before the sands of time run out.

Of course it is a risk, every selection is, but a measured one for sure. I didn't expect it but am hugely encouraged by it.

Nine of the starting XV and 14 of the 23 play out of Leinster. So what? Even if we lose today, I like what I am seeing and I would suggest a more enlightened approach to selection is unfolding.

It is one based on current form ahead of hitting camp (Carton House) and then backed up by performance on the training pitch in camp making for a much more competitive and most crucially incentive driven build up.

The bottom line of course, and how this management will ultimately be judged, comes via the playing field on match day. That is the reality of professional sport and high profile rugby is for sure no different.

VERDICT: Ireland by six (18-12).

Belfast Telegraph


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