Ronan O’Gara on all the latest talking points from Les Kiss to the next Ireland captain
LOSING LES, FINDING FARRELL
International squad sessions can be testosterone-filled chambers of stress. Points to prove. Upstarts to slap down. Hierarchal changing room positions.
That’s why I always enjoyed Les Kiss in the Ireland camp. He is a massive loss as defence coach for Joe Schmidt, but also as a soothing influence on the group. Les is a very nice person. When in camp, in that stressed environment, it’s always easier to work with genuinely good people, and Les fits into that category. Everyone does stress, but he disguises it really well. He has a great way of explaining things, and keeps his toys where they belong — in the pram.
Yes, he is set in his ideas, but in my time was always open to tweaking, which is very important.
As are most Aussie coaches, he is technically very good, and remember it was Kiss who came up with the choke tackle which served Ireland so well. It will go down as one of the most progressive defensive ploys in the last decade. Ulster can only flourish with him as director of rugby.
I would have played against his replacement, Andy Farrell, for Munster against Saracens, but haven’t shared a dressing room with him. He was one of the players I really admired playing League for Wigan. He’s only 40. After a stellar dual code career, he’s now coached with the Lions, England and shortly, Ireland. He is dining at the top table, that’s for sure.
What I do know is that he’s a big presence, a big character, and a born winner. He will bring that requisite clean slate, a fresh way of thinking and no pre-conceptions about any of the players. It’s a very good appointment by the IRFU.
FOOL ME TWICE, SHAME ON ME...
There’s a modern day truism about rugby defence. You shouldn’t be getting beat by the same play two weeks in a row. The best defence traditionally wins cups. Andy’s job is detailed if simple — limit the opposition to as few points as possible. His mantra? It doesn’t take talent to work hard.
A rugby defence is only as strong as its weakest link. That means a unit must function properly on everything from the system to discipline to work-rate, communication and philosophy.
You’d be disappointed if you get busted on first phase defence, but then it must immediately be reconsistuted as a multi-phase defence. That means a lot of fellas working together.
It’s still one of the easier segments of the game to coach — notwithstanding moments of brilliance or genius, a lot of angles can be covered through good systems and communication. Intelligent players learn from their mistakes. Attack is more of a lock-picking exercise, and making instinctive decisions in real time. Such species are becoming rarer and rarer these days, sadly.
AGE IS BUT A NUMBER
Are we talking future Irish captain or next Irish captain? From the first week he trained alongside us, Peter O’Mahony displayed all the credentials (effortlessly, too) to be a future captain of Ireland. Nothing that has happened since changes my view on that. But it would be no harm to his education to play under another skipper now, preferably one from a different province.
There are many seductive reasons to appoint Best of Ulster as next Irish captain, and that is but one of them. I’ve been in the trenches with Rory Best. I know what it means to him, I know what his beliefs are, his standards. He’s a warrior. And for me, he’s the standout choice to be Paul O’Connell’s successor.
Can Irish rugby really afford to be looking that far down the track in terms of what age he is? Best will be 37 by the time the next World Cup comes around. But that’s a protracted cycle and O’Mahony can learn a lot from him in the meantime. He’s 33 now. With recovery and the way players look after themselves, that’s not a problem at all. He needs to be a really accurate thrower, he needs to be stay fit, and lead by example. It’s a rare thing, this speculation about an Irish captaincy. We are coming off an age where it essentially went from Keith Wood to Brian O’Driscoll to Paul O’Connell. Peter O’Mahony is the long-term choice. Sean O’Brien is an interesting option as well. He has a wild streak in him, but that’s the position he plays in, hence he needs to be confrontational. In terms of inspiring people, he’d do a bloody good job as Irish captain.
RUSHING ACROSS PARIS
Mike Prendergast will bunk down with me in Paris tonight. Grenoble have a weekend off, and he’s up for an overdose of Champions Cup rugby. We’ll watch Bordeaux-Begles and Clermont tonight and he’ll join me for Racing’s tie with Glasgow tomorrow at 1pm (your time). Then we’ll jump in the car and try to negotiate our way through Paris traffic to get over the Stade Jean Bouin for Munster’s clash with Stade Francais.
Munster will win there tomorrow. Whether they can pick up a fifth point is the issue. Their season comes down to this 80 minutes. It’s that stark. Stade’s season doesn’t. Munster’s hunger will be over-powering but with Stade, it’s impossible to second-guess their approach — both tactical and psychological. They’re an off-the-cuff, high-tempo outfit that can light the place up or stumble around aimlessly. Anthony Foley knows that Munster can still make 20 points in the pool, but 19 has been enough in plenty of other seasons to make the knockout phase. That will be the approach — secure four points and see what the last 20 brings. It’ll be open if Stade have their way, but Munster’s need is greater.
Ulster will come away from Oyonnax with five points. This is a big step up for a club in turmoil since sacking their former coach Olivier Azam before Christmas. They had a good win against Stade, but got hockeyed by Bernard Jackman’s Grenoble, 42-17. Their sole interest is survival in the Top 14 and they shouldn’t present a major obstacle to Ulster, who’ll be hopping mad after losing to Munster.
We have another wounded animal in Paris tomorrow — a dangerous one in Glasgow, coming off a loss to Edinburgh. Don’t pay too much attention to it, but Racing went top of the Top 14 last weekend, even though we made very hard work of beating Bordeaux-Begles 23-18. There has been massive progress this season, but let’s see where we are in four months’ time.
May and June are the winning months in France — though Munster wouldn’t mind getting a January jump on our neighbours and rivals over the next pair of weekends.
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