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'Behind them, it's an absolute car crash... There's a big issue'

Ireland’s scrum had another tough outing against the All Blacks last weekend.

Ireland's starting front row of Tadhg Furlong, Dan Sheehan and Andrew Porter.
Ireland's starting front row of Tadhg Furlong, Dan Sheehan and Andrew Porter.

SCRUM PENALTIES AND front row depth.

Irish rugby fans find themselves discussing these issues quite often in the wake of the biggest games. The concerns have been there for some time and Andy Farrell’s squad have been pushed towards breaking point on their tour of New Zealand.

Speaking on today’s episode of The42 Rugby Weekly Extra podcast for members of The42, Bernard Jackman outlined his belief that the problems are indicative of the IRFU’s failure to properly identify and develop young talent.

“The scrum has been an issue for a while,” said Bernard. “We’re giving away scrum penalties with two very good individual props.

“OK, Porter is still learning his trade as a loosehead but power and size-wise, Porter and Furlong are very decent physical specimens.

“Behind them, it’s an absolute car crash.

“If you’re in that Irish squad and you see Michael Bent come in as 24th man… you see Cian Healy come off on a golf buggy on Wednesday and have to be picked to play on Saturday, you know in your heart and soul that it’s not built on strong foundations.

“The IRFU appointed Greg Feek in 2014 as full-time scrum coach for Ireland plus head of the national scrum programme. I thought it was a brilliant idea, very New Zealand-like where you have weekends throughout the year where the best potential scrum coaches around the country came together with Greg Feek and talked about scrums.

“That gives you alignment from the top down in terms of how props are being coached to scrummage. It also gives you 12 or 14 scouts because scrum coaches, by their nature, are fanatical.

“They will go and watch out for rough diamonds who can become props. It’s not like being a fullback, winger, or 6ft 10ins second row. To be an international prop, you have to be very strong and develop that. You have to be tough and aggressive. The rest of it, you can coach. Don’t tell me those people aren’t out there in Ireland somewhere, even if they’re not playing rugby at the moment.

bernard-jackman-before-the-game Jackman was speaking on The42 Rugby Weekly Extra. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“Ireland’s scrum was statistically one of the best in the world from 2014 to 2018. I’ve been told nonsense that Ireland doesn’t produce strong people or whatever, yet for four years we have a scrum that was a foundation stone of Joe Schmidt’s attack.

“In 2018, we let Greg Feek go part-time. We let him double-job. Maybe they would have lost him altogether otherwise but they let him double-job in Japan and our scrum started to creak. Think back to the 2019 World Cup, even in the game against Japan there were a couple of key scrums where we gave away penalties that gave Japan belief. It was already starting to dip then.

“When Greg Feek went part-time, he gave up this national scrum programme, so effectively it stopped. Now in 2022, a year out from the World Cup, look at the depth chart. There’s a big issue.

“It goes back to a lack of talent ID but also it’s the cartel that Leinster are able to keep the best players until they make a decision at U20 level. I think if you open it up and let Connacht, Munster, and Ulster come in and speak to the best players, while they do their best with their own kids, they can target gaps in their succession.

“The other provinces haven’t done a good enough job developing their own talent but I think some of the problem is that there’s too much talent locked in one province.”

With the World Cup looming next year, Bernard is worried this problem will only get worse before it improves.

“The reality is that if there’s an injury to Furlong or Porter, how is Cian Healy going to be doing in another year? Leinster haven’t had trust in him to come on for 20 minutes in the last couple of months. That’s worrying in a game where not many props are going 70.

“It’s not Andy Farrell’s job, I’m not blaming him at all. I’m talking about the IRFU, with all the money that’s being spent, what have they done to improve our talent ID and talent development?”

Ciaran Parker, a member of The42, got in touch to ask why Irish rugby hasn’t produced more top-level props through its academies, wondering if there is enough scouting of non-schools players with major potential, as was the case with Tadhg Furlong. 

“The reality is that some of the people selecting and coaching for the academies are all about what the player can do now,” said Bernard.

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all-blacks-scrum The All Blacks scrummaging against Ireland.

“I’ve seen a very good player, not a prop, who creativity-wise doesn’t have another player who can touch him. He runs a bad Bronco (fitness test) and he gets dropped down the pecking order a little bit.

“Mako Vunipola has run bad Broncos for a long time but when he needs to do the job and get fit, he can get fit. Some fellas who have never been involved in the pro game don’t understand the importance of aggression, power. Let the professional coaches get them fit.

“I think there are rough diamonds out there in the Irish game, probably coming through the youths (clubs) system and when they compare at 18 or 19 to the schoolboy players, they’re missing a pass off their left hand, lateral movement to lift in the lineout, a couple of levels on the Bronco. That should not matter. 

“You have to look at that kid asking what he can be like when he’s 23 or 24, has he got the raw materials? Forget about winning the U18 inter-provincials. Find rough diamonds.

“There are a lot of kids in New Zealand who were maybe in trouble, with tough family backgrounds, but they have innate ability to help teams win. That’s what they’re looking for.

“There are rough diamonds out there in Ireland but if the people who are picking them are obsessed about numbers and don’t see the long-term potential, well then you’re screwed.”

Today’s edition of The42 Rugby Weekly Extra also saw Bernard, Gavan Casey, and Murray Kinsella joined by Kiwi coach Dave Dillon to give his perspective on the All Blacks’ first Test win.

Garry Doyle checked in from Auckland with an update about life on tour in New Zealand, while the lads also dug into the specifics of Ireland’s defeat.

To get access to The42 Rugby Weekly Extra, which comes out every Monday with Gavan Casey, Bernard Jackman, and Murray Kinsella, as well as every Wednesday with Eoin Toolan, become a member of The42 at members.the42.ie. 

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