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Leinster's Gordon D'Arcy makes a break against Edinburgh.
Leinster's Gordon D'Arcy makes a break against Edinburgh.
Image: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

About Schmidt: Ireland should take lessons from Leinster coach

No matter what team Joe Schmidt puts out these days, his side are bulldozing all in front of them.
Apr 18th 2012, 11:54 AM 609 2

WATCHING LEINSTER’S ‘SECOND team’ dispatch Edinburgh in such emphatic fashion last Friday night was a very positive sight for Irish rugby.

This was not a once-off either.

No matter what team Joe Schmidt puts out these days, his side are bulldozing all in front of them in an impressive fashion.

Schmidt has developed a rotation system at Leinster which is working to optimum effect, as a Heineken Cup semi-final and top spot in the Rabo Direct would confirm. Even the French clubs struggle to maintain a challenge on both domestic and European fronts, although the Top 14 is a gruelling affair it must be said.

The Leinster coach should be commended for rotating his squad in such a seamless fashion, creating a culture of heads up rugby whilst simultaneously maintaining a high standard of performance and indeed results. Perhaps his greatest strength though has been creating an atmosphere in which rotation is accepted and where everyone buys into the greater good of the team rather than the individual.

Yet, any rotation system within a squad will only work if you have the players. Schmidt has shown great faith in the talent coming through at Leinster and hasn’t been slow to cast them into the fray. The former Clermont backs coach has avoided burn out of his front line players, whilst simultaneously seeing some of the talented young players at Leinster reach unexpected heights.

Schmidt doesn’t just play a first team and a mid-week team, depending on the game, however. It is more a system of integration with a mix of the two. This is more beneficial to the emerging talent as they have to rise to the standards set around them by the seasoned internationals, not just in terms of quality, but also in terms of their attitude and professionalism.

Fresh blood

Speaking at a function on Tuesday morning, the Leinster coach said it was amazing to see just how much Devin Toner was benefitting already from the arrival of Brad Thorn.

Ian Madigan is another player that has improved drastically this season and is almost unrecognisable from the erratic performer of last season. Yes, he was bound to improve year on year but Madigan has benefitted greatly from the trust placed in him by Schmidt and the game time he has been afforded.

All of a sudden Madigan looks a class act, constantly playing on the gain line and consistently looking for space. The former Blackrock College student attacks the line with real purpose, is not afraid to go from deep and already has an impressive collection of skills in his repertoire.

He is not alone either. There is a plethora of talent coming through at the RDS who are blossoming under the tutelage of positive coaching and meaningful game time. It is not just Leinster either. Look at some of the talent that is emerging in the other provinces, particularly Munster and Ulster.

The youth structure in Ireland is a good one, particularly the schools system. The standard of the rugby is of a very high level and the attitude of the players and coaches is outstanding. It is an excellent stepping stone for the lucky few who get picked up by the academies and the closest the rest will get to professional sport in their lifetime.

These are kids who are used to travelling to places like France and winning from a young age. Indeed the Irish under 20s, who fell one stop short of a Grand Slam this year, went to Grenoble and won.

Leinster head coach Joe Schmidt at the RDS last Friday night. INPHO/Dan Sheridan

It is time that Ireland started exposing more of the young quality to the international set up. Winning is obviously first and foremost on the agenda for Declan Kidney but a balance can be achieved here. A guy like Ian Madigan should go on the tour to New Zealand and potentially given some game time in a test match.

People may argue that you don’t want to scar the guy early in his rugby career or knock his confidence by exposing him to an unmerciful beating on a wet Saturday night in Wellington. However, it is time that Ireland showed a little faith. Ireland are too reliant on a number of key players and injuries to these players are often met with panic. It doesn’t need to be this way as there is quality waiting in the wings, who are ready and able.

Look at the policy Wales have adapted and the young talent that contributed so significantly in winning them a grand slam this year. In general, are these Welsh players of a much higher echelon than the young talent in Ireland? I don’t think so.

Ireland may not be blessed with a production line of front row forwards but we do have an excellent youth structure in place, which is producing players of a truly high calibre. It is time to start believing in our youth.

Joe Schmidt has and it seems to working for him so far.

Twitter: @TomFoxy

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