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'In the final year, Joe failed to evolve the team when he needed to' - BOD

Brian O’Driscoll wants to see Irish rugby placing a greater focus on developing passing skills.

BRIAN O’DRISCOLL SAYS Joe Schmidt failed to evolve his Ireland team in 2019, resulting in their disappointing performance at the Rugby World Cup.

The legendary former Ireland centre now wants to see Irish rugby placing a central focus on developing passing and offloading skills at all levels, as Andy Farrell takes over as head coach.

Schmidt’s tenure in charge of Ireland ended two weekends ago with a 46-14 hammering at the hands of his native New Zealand in the World Cup quarter-finals, having also suffered a shock defeat to hosts Japan in the pool stages.

joe-schmidt-ahead-of-the-game Joe Schmidt's tenure ended with defeat to the All Blacks. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

While O’Driscoll lauded Schmidt’s contribution to Irish rugby over nine years with Leinster and Ireland, he lamented that the Kiwi coach hadn’t developed Ireland’s structured playing style in 2019, after Schmidt’s team had swept all before them in 2018.

“His contribution has been immense,” said O’Driscoll in Tokyo yesterday. “Think about the trophies Leinster won before back-to-back Six Nations, the Grand Slam, two wins against the All Blacks, the first win in South Africa, the series win in Australia – all huge milestones and ultimately it’s so disappointing for him and from everyone’s perspective that he’s left on a low point because we didn’t fire a shot in that quarter-final and we haven’t done something we wanted to do.

“He has driven expectations to a level that maybe we don’t ordinarily compete at. That’s a good and bad thing because when you dip below it, you leave yourself open to being chopped at the knees or given a hard time.

“He has absolutely maximized the potential of that team over the course of the six years with them.

“But yet, in the final year, he failed to evolve the team when he needed to and, when we got close to the top of the tree by playing our game plan, teams started giving us a little bit more respect, a little bit more time to how they could nullify us.

“On top of that, we weren’t doing that game plan as well, so it was a double-negative.

“Then, we had this massive confidence dip after getting owned by England in the first [2019 Six Nations] game, physically dominated. I don’t know if our year ever recovered from that.

“It completely took the wind out of our sails, after riding that crest of a wave from the New Zealand game [in November 2018] and then, bang, we didn’t have a couple of games to enjoy it.

“We were just, smack, sat back down again. And the lack of evolution probably hurt us, it hurt him a bit because it felt as if we ran out of ideas.”

191028-073007 O'Driscoll is an ambassador for Land Rover, Official Worldwide Partner of Rugby World Cup 2019.

O’Driscoll would have liked to see Ireland bring more offloading into their game to make them less predictable, and he points to the impact of Stuart Lancaster at Leinster for an example of what Ireland might have done.

“We put so much trust in Joe’s system and people ask you, as a player if you had seen the year not going well, would you not go to Joe and say, ‘I think we need to modify things’.

“It’s very hard when you have had that level of success, when you’ve backed him and he has delivered time and time again. I felt as if there was still too much of a set-piece focus, I don’t know how much we were focused on our multi-phase.

“We were a bit risk-averse, we’ve got to become… you look at the offload stats, we’ve got to make the game a bit easier for ourselves. You’ve got to try and push offloads a little bit more, encourage it and you’ve got to practice it.

“I don’t know how much of that goes on in training, but you can see how Leinster’s game is evolving in the last few years. Guys that were never passers or offloaders are getting it into their game.

“That’s another area that we have to evolve. We’ve historically been poor offloaders, that’s an obvious opportunity to evolve any game plan; changing the point of contact and not having as many rucks, not making it as confrontational and using our skillsets of fast feet of [Jordan] Larmour, [Jacob] Stockdale and [Keith] Earls who didn’t seem to have a lot of opportunity this World Cup.”

Andy Farrell now takes over as Ireland boss and there will be many calls for an overhaul of personnel in the squad.

But O’Driscoll stressed that the incoming boss will have to get results swiftly to keep any early pressure off and the former Leinster centre said Farrell “can’t write off the first two years in development of a four-year cycle.

“Also, we don’t have eight or 10 players to come in and replace the guys who have been there for a decade,” continued O’Driscoll.

“I think you’ll see a changing of some of the old guard, but it will be a continual process rather than an immediate one.”

andy-farrell Andy Farrell takes over as Ireland head coach. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

O’Driscoll has some concerns about Ireland’s immediate future.

“I think when you look at some of our best players coming to the winter of their careers, it creates a nervousness,” said O’Driscoll.

“Conor Murray, Johnny Sexton… Peter O’Mahony’s body looked pretty beaten up. So, if you look at those guys, they have been huge guys for Ireland and their clubs. It might be hard for them to get better from what we’ve seen.

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“I suppose there’s a bit of nervousness, but excitement comes with that opportunity of seeing more Joey Carbery, seeing more of whatever halfback comes in, seeing more of hopefully Dan Leavy getting back fit.

“I don’t know much about the academy system, but I’ve talked to Paulie [O'Connell] and there’s some good talent coming through the Munster ranks, particularly in the pack and the Leinster assembly line of schools and now club players as well is coming through. There is reason to have hope.

“But, am I immediately expecting a bounce-back? I think there’s going to be a bedding-in process.”

One area that O’Driscoll stressed must be focused on in Irish rugby is passing and handling skills. He said Ireland were “taught us a lesson” by New Zealand in this area, and that the development pathway now needs to place these skills at the heart of everything.

“I don’t think it’s only with the Irish senior team,” said O’Driscoll. “We’ve got to have a rethink within our systems and our grassroots that that has to be more of a focus.

“It’s New Zealand’s greatest strength, the skillset of their teams, their underage teams. They’re better passers than us.

chris-farrell-passes-to-luke-mcgrath O'Driscoll wants Irish skills to be developed at all levels. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“I always say in the kids’ camp that I do, I’ll ask any kid if they can run as fast as I can pass the ball. Some of them will try but it’s impossible, Usain Bolt can’t run as fast as I can pass a ball. So why do you pass? To get people into space, to use the width.

“I think we still have some way to go. We’ve got some nice passers but not everyone’s second nature is to throw a 10-metre pass without thinking, it’s just not.

“That has to become the norm, where it doesn’t matter what your number on your back is, where you get into a position with 5-on-3, it’s catch-pass, catch-pass, catch-pass. They did that brilliantly against us a couple of times, even when they didn’t score, it was without thought.

“We need to look at trying to incorporate that skills-based stuff more and more and more at underage levels, coach it into our systems because if we want to grow and evolve, we’ve got to change something.

“It doesn’t need to be a knee-jerk but we’ve got to evolve the game and that’s one way of making it easier, becoming very good passers of the ball.”

Land Rover is Official Worldwide Partner of Rugby World Cup 2019.  With over 20 years of heritage supporting rugby at all levels, Land Rover is celebrating what makes rugby, rugby. #LandRoverRugby

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Murray Kinsella  / Reports from Tokyo

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