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Dublin: 10°C Saturday 17 April 2021

TV Wrap - Rebuilding of Schmidt's reputation begins as Ireland stutter against Scotland

Elsewhere, Dylan Hartley impresses as Matt Williams sticks the boot into Eddie Jones.

Andy Farrell and Joe Schmidt, back in 2016.
Andy Farrell and Joe Schmidt, back in 2016.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“IS THIS STILL a team in rehabilitation?” asked Joe Molloy on Virgin Media. 

It’s only a few months since we stood up to the world to say, ‘Hi, we’re Ireland and we’re not as good as we used to be’, so Saturday offered the first chance to move on in a more familiar competition under a familiar head coach. 

Some going through rehab adopt a pet to help the process, and this became a theme of the build-up to Ireland’s Six Nations opener against Scotland, as Brian O’Driscoll wondered where the “dog” had gone in the Irish pack. 

Sinéad Kissane asked the question ahead of kick-off and Shane Jennings partially agreed, saying the Irish pack was probably missing an “out-and-out dog.” 

All this talk of dogs meant we hardly heard a thing about Mike Catt. 

In fairness, Saturday was all about Andy Farrell.  So what was he going to do differently to Joe?

He was suited and booted for the game and took a minimal part in the warm-up, while the laptop was ditched in the coach’s booth to clear space for some passionate table-thumping.

But as Matt Williams made it clear pre-game, Farrell won’t be judged on these cosmetic differences – it will come down to results. “Show me the Bugs Bunny”, said Mattie, introducing another yearned-for animal to the week. “Show me the money.” 

Forget the Bunny – the cartoon slapstick came from Hogg, as the Scotland captain brainlessly dropped the ball over the try-line to allow Ireland escape with a win. 

stuart-hogg-knocks-the-ball-on-at-the-try-line Stuart Hogg blows it. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“A horror-show”, said Shane Horgan, adding it was difficult for the Scotland captain to retain much credibility in the dressing room after such a monumental error. Mattie, meanwhile, seemed offended by the error, saying his father “would have chewed his arse off” had it happened under his watch. 

As for the full-time verdict on Ireland? 

Horgan was underwhelmed. “If an outsider didn’t know Joe Schmidt had stepped down, and Andy Farrell was now the coach”, he asked, “and they just seen that performance, would they have known the difference?”

No, said Ronan O’Gara, stressing that this Irish team remain damaged by that hideous 2019. “This team is at a low ebb. It’s going to take time, this team is short on confidence.”

Mattie stressed the need for time; that it was too soon to expect Ireland to have clambered back close to the demented heights of 2018.

In fact, the weekend’s swiftest redemption was probably Joe Schmidt’s, as his reign is already taking on the warm hue of nostalgia. 

Okay, the ending was pretty ugly, but maybe he wasn’t so bad after all?

While some want Farrell to change everything, Horgan and ROG said he should look to keep 85% of Schmidt’s work and build from there. “There is significant tweaking to be done, but not revolution”, said Horgan, who argued against those who said that Joe’s reign foundered on too strict a structure. 

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“Structure wasn’t the problem, but the latent pressure the player felt under not to take the right or the more risky opportunity”, said Horgan. Joe Molloy perceptively wondered aloud if we may soon end up talking of Ireland wandering too far down an unstructured road. 

Another man rehabbing his image among casual rugby fans is former England captain Dylan Hartley, best-known in these parts for being regularly suspended for brutalising a series of Irish players during his career. Hartley was part of the Beeb’s coverage for France/England yesterday, and showed admirable self-awareness in his criticism of Saracens. 

I know more than anyone that if you do something naughty, you get in trouble. But I never did the same thing over and over again. My eight bans were never for the same thing. My criminal versatility was unbelievable. From what I’ve read, they’ve done the same thing over and over again. It borders on ignorance and arrogance.

This also offered an insight into the problems Eddie Jones may face uniting his England team, who kicked off their Six Nations with a frenetic loss in a sodden Paris. 

On Virgin Media afterward, Mattie wasn’t mincing his words, damning Eddie Jones with his pre-game comments that England could become “the best rugby team ever.” 

“Eddie Jones this week has been arrogant. He said they want to be the best team of all-time. Look at that performance there. Why would you say something stupid like that? Why put the pressure on your players?

“If you’re sitting there and you’re an England player, you’re going, ‘Coach, shut up.’

“Why poke the bear?”

There’s another animal for the week’s upper-class menagerie. 

As for the French? ROG swooned at the unstructured genius of Dupont’s off-load to create the final French try, one of those slick flourishes of instinct that Irish fans are so desperate to see dressed in green. 

“That’s why we like sport”, said ROG. “At no point during the week did they practice that. He is so good, so good.” 

Horgan says he needs more evidence before he declaring the French as the real deal, and ROG did admit that “you have no idea how they will turn up to an away game.”

That said, this was a pretty good start for them, and as ROG pointed out, they have something else Ireland are still looking for. 

“France with confidence are a different animal.” 

Goodness knows which one. 


About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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