Irish rugby As the dust settles on yet another disappointing World Cup showing, I take a look at what lays in store for new Ireland Head Coach Andy Farrell and ask what can we expect to see done differently, if for that matter anything.
Joe Schimidt may be Irelands most successful coach, but his tenure will no doubt be tainted by yet another failure to reach a world cup semi-final. A chastising 46-14 defeat to New Zealand ended his spell in charge and brought the most difficult of his six years in charge to an end irish rugby.
But what can his replacement Andy Farrell learn from what was a testing year for the 2018 6 Nations champions?
Following defeat to Ireland last year New Zealand Head Coach Steve Hansen did a little tinkering in his backline in the hope that his side won’t be caught out again in Japan. A new out-half, wingers and Jordie Barrett found a new home at full back.
It’s here that Ireland can take some tips from the now retired Kiwi and freshen up the side with a few fresh faces to the matchday squad as he assembles his coaching team around him. One notable new face is former England international and World Cup winner Mike Catt.
The introduction of Catt to the coaching set up could be just what the set up requires. He arrives after a spell with Italy, and no disrespect to the Azzurri, you would like to think that Ireland have a few more attacking options up their sleeves. The man who helped the development of Johnny Wilkinson’s career from a young age will no doubt relish the opportunity of working with the likes of Gary Ringrose, Jordan Larmour and Jacob Stockdale as well as picking the brains of Johnny Sexton. With Catt being a former number 10 himself, conversations between these two will o doubt prove to be very interesting.
No retirements are expected in the backline but Rob Kearney must be looking nervously over the shoulder at Leinster teammate Jordan Larmour. The pint sized flyer looked more than comfortable under the high ball and he is also well renowned for his attacking prowess.
In the centre the established four players vying for a starting spot, Henshaw, Aki, Ringrose and Farrell will continue to scrap manfully for a place in the match day squad. If Robbie Henshaw can stay fit then he is the front runner for the number 12 shirt where he should be partnered by fellow Leinster man Gary Ringrose.
Also putting their hands up for selection are Andrew Conway on the wing and John Cooney at scrum-half. Jacob Stockdale after his record breaking year has found his second year at International level more than challenging and his selection may depend on his form with Ulster.
One Ulster player who’s stock continues to rise is John Cooney. There is no question that he is the in form 9 in the Irish game, and after what can only be described as a lacklustre year, Conor Murray for the first time in his international career faces a big challenge for a starting spot behind the scrum.
With no return in site for Joey Carbery, the one who may benefit the most maybe his club mate JJ Harahan. His recent display against Racing 92 in the Heineken Champions Cup showed just what he is capable of, and with the arrival of Australian legend Stephen Larkin, don’t rule out a call up for the former Northampton Saints playmaker. Ulster pair Stuart McCloskey and Will Addison must surely be on the minds of the management too.
Up front Simon Easterby must do without the services of the now retired Rory Best. A great servant to the Irish game at all levels, the Banbridge club man made the number 2 jersey his own and easily fought off any challengers for the hooker position. Many eyes will turn to Sean Cronin, Niall Scannell and Best’s predecessor at Ulster Rob Herring. But it’s the emergence of Leinster’s Ronan Kelleher that is catching everyone’s eye. Not only is he an accomplished hooker, he also has an eye for a score and has landed seven tries in just nine appearances.
In the second row it’s looking like Iain Henderson may get the nod ahead of Tadhg Beirne to partner possible new captain James Ryan. In the back row Farrell and his selectors must start life out without Dan Leavy who looks like missing the entire season. His loss has been certainly been felt the past year as many believe his work at the breakdown in particular was instrumental in Ireland’s success of 2018. Jack Conan’s absence will more than likely see a back row of Peter O’Mahony, another possible contender or the captaincy, Josh van der Flier and CJ Stander start next years 6 Nations championship.
All in all what we want to see from Ireland is a more attacking dynamic. Play seemed to be quite restricted and there was almost a fear of off the cuff moves and off loading. Many believing this to be the main reason for Simon Zebo not being Joe Schmidt’s type of player.
Does Andy Farrell’s master plan allow for a more free flowing game? Saturday 1st February 2020 will give us a clearer indication of what’s in store.