Is Joe Schmidt’s Attention To Detail Holding Ireland Back?

Is Joe Schmidt’s attention to detail holding Ireland back?

Following last year’s November series after battles with the likes of Australia and the All Blacks, CJ Stander spoke about the huge difference in making the step up to international rugby from provincial. The Munster star noted how everything is ‘instinctive’ given the pace of the game at that level.

“You can’t stop and think ‘I’m going to do this’ because while you’re thinking they’re doing something different. So everything has to be on instinct.” Stander said.

Joe Schmidt has become known over the years for his meticulous attention to detail. He’s known to micro-manage his players and likes to have everything planned out perfectly. It’s a very calculated approach that can be extremely effective- when it works.

The problem is, it doesn’t always work as all players at the end of the day are human and sometimes it just isn’t your day. You can also become very predictable for sides to analyse. This was hugely evident at this year’s Six Nations, with Ireland’s set-piece either simply not firing, or easily disrupted due to its predictability.

Ireland back-row Sean O’Brien says you have much more of a licence at provincial level to play how you want to play.

“You have more of a licence with the way we are playing now with Leinster than we do at international level,” O’Brien said at the launch of lotto betting site.
“The risk at international level is probably greater in terms of if the ball goes on the ground and they (the opposition) get the scraps it could be a score, whereas at the weekend we went to Wasps’ end and they came back right into our 22.
“You recover a little bit easier at that level. It’s just another notch down, but it’s nice to go into that environment and know the way you are going to play and know that you are going to have a crack and see where it takes you.
“Different coaches have different game-plans. You stick to what they want to do.”

In terms of what kind of rugby is better to play, O’Brien says both are effective but one is clearly more exciting.

“They are both effective, but the way we were playing the weekend is exciting rugby on the end of that,” he said.
“We conceded a few soft scores from the ball going down on the ground and stuff like that you can really tidy up on, make sure you are nailing because if that is international level they are scores.
“It doesn’t bother me, you have to be able to play the way the coach wants you to. I’m happy to do either. It’s more loose the way we play with Leinster now.”

That being said is it time that Schmidt let the shackles off just a little bit? While it’s clear that it’s a much higher standard of rugby at international level, at the end of the day- the higher the risk, the greater the reward. Sure Ireland will be punished if they make mistakes, but sometime you have to have a crack, and they’ve proven at provincial level that they have that x-factor to turn it on when needed.

The Wales game was a glaring example of how sometimes you need to just play a bit of rugby and have a right go at the opposition. Munster back Simon Zebo was asked about O’Brien’s comments yesterday and said he can understand where the Leinster star is coming from.

Ya i’d say so, I understand what he’s trying to say,” Zebo said at Life Style’s #MunsterRising event at Thomond Park yesterday.
“It’s different, the level you’re playing at it’s different, so you can come back here [Munster] and you’d be looked to more, the international guys would be looked to more to do things.”
“In Irish camp everybody is you know not on the same playing field, but there’s not one person you’d go to and say you have any licence you want, do what you want.”
“Everyone is on more of a level playing field, but you have just a little bit more licence when you come back to express yourself. You’re with a team for the majority of the year and you know the players playing inside you and outside you inside out, so you’ve probably a little bit more licence to do what you want.”

The Munster winger goes on to say it’s about adapting to the two different regiments. He reckons he probably won’t be such a central part of Joe Schmidt’s plans right now if played the way he wanted over the last two years.

Is this something that should concern us? Zebo is know for his natural flair and exciting brand of rugby and perhaps taking this away, or restricting it- limits what he can offer you on the pitch. Is this the case for a lot of players, where they completely change their game when playing for Ireland?

Understandably they must adapt to the level and the coach they’re playing for, but does it sound like the shackles are put in when they’re playing for their country? As Stander said, international rugby is about instinct, and if you try and micro-manage that, you could be in serious trouble.

There is a lot of individual talent in the current Ireland set-up that perhaps need to be given that little bit more freedom on the pitch, and let their skills deal with the instinctive play. A lot can also be said about Schmidt’s selection, and how he clearly favours players that will follow his strict regiment as opposed to those who may push the boundaries..

That however is another conversation that we won’t go into. What do you think? Should the Irish players be given a little bit more creative control?

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