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How Paul O'Connell might go about resolving Ireland's lineout issues

‘I know the Stade Francais players who worked with him — the forwards — thought he was world-class,’ said Bernard Jackman of O’Connell on The42 Rugby Weekly.

Paul O'Connell speaking with James Ryan during a training session in Abbotstown in February.
Paul O'Connell speaking with James Ryan during a training session in Abbotstown in February.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Updated Jan 7th 2021, 8:01 PM

FORMER IRELAND HOOKER Bernard Jackman believes Paul O’Connell’s appointment as forwards coach will be of significant benefit to Ireland and Andy Farrell’s existing staff, and has backed the Munster legend to in time “make himself almost redundant” in relation to the Irish lineout specifically, which O’Connell will set about fixing ahead of this year’s Guinness Six Nations.

O’Connell’s role with the Irish forwards will allow for Simon Easterby to focus solely on defence, which is “the way it has to be” at the top level of international rugby, Jackman said on Thursday’s The42 Rugby Weekly, citing Eddie Jones’ recruitment of former All Blacks head coach John Mitchell to oversee England’s defence as further evidence of the demands of defensive-coaching duties.

Jackman also expressed his belief that O’Connell’s presence in the setup will bring with it intangible benefits as well as professional expertise, telling The42′s Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey that “in terms of him being an influence in the squad, in the management and coaching staff, it just gives you a fresh pair of eyes, someone who is very analytical, very shrewd.

“I think it’s a great move,” Jackman added. “An Irish coach getting an opportunity. And I think the players will enjoy it.

“I know the Stade Francais players who worked with him — the forwards — thought he was world-class. It just wasn’t the right environment — as can happen in Stade Francais — to have immediate success on the field, but in terms of his impact and making players better, and making them understand the game, he was unbelievably good.

“It’s great for Paul, as well. It gets him back doing what I think he’s meant to do. I think he’s too smart a rugby man to be lost to the game.”

One of the aspects of Ireland’s game on which O’Connell will heavily focus in his new gig is the lineout, which for all intents and purposes has been misfiring for the bones of two years.

Jackman, a former thrower and current coach, also broke down that side of the forwards coach’s role, giving his thoughts on where O’Connell’s longstanding lineout expertise as a player might best benefit Ireland as he seeks to make significant improvements to the current system with relatively fresh playing personnel at his disposal.

“On Monday morning they’ll review the previous weekend — with the lineout leaders first; so, probably three players who are involved in the strategy,” Jackman said. “Then, they will relay that review back to the group.

“Then, there’ll be a preview meeting for the lineout leaders. Effectively, every team will have a big menu of lineout options in terms of seven, six, five, four[-man lineout moves], but also different movements and different variations — whether it’s a throw-jump, jump-throw, one movement, two movements, three movements. Normally, on a Monday, there’s a maybe 20-minute walk-through — so they just go somewhere and walk through the movements and the options they’re going to pick from the menu and use the following weekend based on the opposition and whether they’re a mirror or a block defence.

“On Tuesday, they’ll have a unit session where the lineout coach will have maybe half an hour to do live stuff. The scrum coach (John Fogarty) will have his block, then, and afterwards, they’ll join the team session if it’s a double [training] day — and obviously, there might be lineouts in that session that the team plays off, so Paul will have another chance to rep them there.

paul-oconnell-wins-a-line-out Paul O'Connell winning a lineout against England in Twickenham during a 2015 World Cup warm-up match. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“Normally, Wednesday is a day off. Thursday, normally, they do a walk-through of the defensive lineout; what defensive formations you’re going to use to try and counteract what the opposition might do, and trying to predict what the opposition might use against you this week that they didn’t use last week. You might get a chance to do some sharpeners on your own throw that afternoon.

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“And then, Friday, there’s normally another sharpener session — and that’s it.

“That’s all just in terms of being on the field with the whole group”, Jackman added, “but what the really good guys do is they grab those lineout callers on a Tuesday night and they bring them in and start to look at footage and try to pick up triggers from the opposition hooker, the opposition movement, and try to basically prepare the players for the pictures they’re going to see on a Saturday and help them to be able to make the right calls.

“That’s somewhere Paul, having been in the middle of the lineout and having always called and set up his lineout how he liked it, can be a real help to the next caller for Ireland, whether that’s going to be James Ryan or Iain Henderson or Ryan Baird or whoever.

leo-cullen-and-bernard-jackman Bernard Jackman conversing with former Leinster team-mate Leo Cullen. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“Don’t forget, we have had an issue with not having a kind of specialist, dominant lineout character in our team, as well.

“And I’d actually say there’s room for Paul to make himself almost redundant to a certain extent over the next two or three years. In Leinster, we had Mike Brewer, Jono Gibbes [as coaches] but Leo Cullen, when he came back from Leicester, would have the lineout menu himself on a Monday morning. He’d go in and get it signed off by the forwards coach and the coach would obviously supervise everything and pick up on little things, but Leo as the lineout caller — it was his baby.

“So, that’s part of the role that I think Paul will have: it’s to find who’s the next Paul O’Connell, who’s the next Devin Toner, who’s the next Leo Cullen within an Irish-setup context who is a real lineout nause. And it might not be a copy and paste of what worked for Paul, but he’ll have to steer them towards what they feel will work for them mid-game, under pressure, and develop that decision-making and clarity of thought.”

Elsewhere on the podcast, Bernard, Murray and Gavan assessed last weekend’s interpros and looked ahead to this weekend’s all-Irish fixtures, and also discussed the potential fate of this summer’s Lions tour which is, like everything, facing serious disruption and perhaps even potential postponement due to the recent surges of Covid-19 in Ireland, Britain and South Africa.

Bernard Jackman, Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey chat Pro14 interpros, the potential solution to the Lions’ problem, and Paul O’Connell’s appointment as Ireland’s forwards coach:


Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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