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Rugby World Cup: Irish need rethink to follow example of Southern giants

By Tony Ward

What transpired at the Millennium Stadium last Sunday wasn't earth shattering or life threatening, but it was for sure hugely disappointing. What we learned, even had Ireland been at full strength, is that as of now we are nowhere near World Cup winning potential when measured against the Southern Hemisphere's best.

I know we all trotted out the line, myself included, that if we got to a semi-final anything could happen, but in this ultra professional age do we really believe that?

Yes, a player could be sent off or a couple binned to swing a once-off match but all things being equal, there is a method and at times a madness to the manner in which the Aussies, the Kiwis and now the Pumas go about their business.

I hesitate at including the Springboks as they still place great emphasis on brute force. That said, what we would give to have a cutting edge back three with the power, pace and panache of Willie le Roux, JP Pietersen and Bryan Habana.

We pride ourselves on the quality and the quantity of our back three and specifically our wings in Tommy Bowe, Andrew Trimble, Keith Earls, Simon Zebo, Luke Fitzgerald, Dave Kearney, Craig Gilroy, Fergus McFadden et al but in all honesty would any even threaten Le Roux, Pietersen or Habana for a place in the Springbok side?

In Heyneke Meyer's defence, and I like him as a coach, the scenic journey to the try line still exists. Can we say the same as to how the final line of team Ireland goes about its business?

We pick to chase, to compete in the air, to defend and we can still to a degree create and finish, but if we're brutally honest we use criteria for selection that I don't believe others do.

Allied to the need for a creative midfield combination - which this World Cup saw us do without - there is a need for a shift in attacking mindset.

Not so much a culture change as the young talent is still there and coming through, but a desire to develop the skill-set appropriate to the modern game.

What is required is not nuclear science but an instruction from the top down to unleash the shackles. As a player I could kick the leather off the ball as well as any but my primary instinct was to run.

Different times, different standards, different systems I accept but if the willingness exists to give the natural talent of an Earls, a Zebo, a Fitzgerald or a Gilroy license to run then there is hope of competing on a more level playing field with Rugby Championship sides in Japan in four years' time.

I suspect that Joe Schmidt is frustrated more than most at having to play a brand of rugby alien to his own wing-playing instinct.

I don't believe he gets any satisfaction from instructing Conor Murray to put snow on every kick off every scrum close to the tram lines so that a Bowe or a Kearney can look to compete in the air and win it back.

Even if successful, it is caveman rugby and unfortunately the knock-on filters through the various strands.

Julian Savea will probably set a new record for try scoring over the next 10 to 14 days and he is one class act but it is the pocket dynamo on the other New Zealand wing that sets my heart thumping a bit quicker.

Nehe Milner-Skudder is a throwback to the days of yore. As a self confessed fan of Welsh wing play, Milner-Skudder is the best of Gerald Davies, Ieuan Evans and Shane Williams rolled into one.

Such talent is God given but it also requires coaching courage to see it through to its full potential.

There is no reason why we cannot produce players with creative attacking and finishing flair of that ilk.

I don't know and I haven't yet met David Nucifora but the IRFU High Performance Director, although a former front row forward, strikes me as a man on a mission to combine the more enlightened methods of the south with the much more conservative ways of the north.

Of course winning is still the bottom line and in this professional age more than ever. Nucifora has already dragged the governing body here into the real world of Sevens Rugby and the clear and obvious benefits to be had.

The former Queensland and Wallaby hooker recognises the pros at the expense of any cons to us giving the abbreviated version of the game our full and undivided commitment.

As of now we are taking tentative steps and at best on the very bottom rung of the World Rugby Sevens ladder but minus Nucifora and his appointment, we wouldn't even be there.

Take it from me now, come Rio and the unveiling of Sevens the uninitiated will be bowled over. We're not throwing the baby out with the bath water but the need for a radical rethink on philosophy and skill development is with us now.

Belfast Telegraph


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