It’s eight years since Greg Feek plugged himself into the mainframe of Irish rugby but the Kiwi scrum coach wasn’t exactly in the mood to measure his input as he pulled up a pew ahead of Saturday’s game against Argentina.
Joe Schmidt would approve of his lieutenant’s focus on the future and on a refusal to look back mere months to a season in which Ireland swept all before them in November, claimed a Grand Slam and edged a summer series in Australia.
There was talk of a “new start” and the desire “to make sure we don’t ruin what we’ve built”.
All of which is perfectly understandable but it bears pausing for a moment just to trawl back through the archives and remind ourselves how integral this low-key son of New Plymouth has been since first contributing to the script, at Leinster, in 2010.
Feek’s first shift with Ireland came just months after his arrival.
Declan Kidney was in charge and Tony Buckley started the first game of that November window, against South Africa, at tighthead. Tom Court, in the days of 22-man squads, covered both starting props from the bench.
This was in that unsettling period when John Hayes was close to retirement and Mike Ross had yet to emerge as his natural successor. Quite the contrast then to the stocks of props available today, what with Tadhg Furlong, Andrew Porter and more besides between loose and tight.
National scrum coach since 2014, Feek has had something to do with that: “At the time that challenge was the exciting thing about it, when I got here. Probably the players that I worked with - who am I still working with now - their attitude is infectious. You end up wanting to keep this going and even hearing them talk about depth underneath them.
“I’m pretty sure it was Tadhg and Jack (McGrath) maybe and they were more excited about what else was to come and how they could contribute to that as well. When you see that you want to be a part of that as well. But it’s not something that I walk around high-fiving myself about.” Credit was directed elsewhere, the praise further diluted by his observation that he was mining what was probably an “untapped” resource. Maybe, but the end result is such that Ireland’s scrum is rarely cause for concern before, during or after a game anymore.
We shouldn’t forget that this hasn’t always been the case.
There was the inevitable scrum speak given it was Feek chatting yesterday. But it focused on the recent sight of All Black locks binding with their front row instead of each other – and whether that was legal – and on whether the Pumas’ setpiece is anything like the weapon it was.
Ireland’s overall health is rude ahead of games against the Pumas and All Blacks.
Signs are that Rob Kearney’s shoulder injury will sideline him this weekend. The Leinster full-back was still seeing the physio yesterday and Feek, at a push, rated him as no more than 50-50. Conor Murray isn’t in camp this week but hasn’t been ruled out of the All Black game either.
That aside, Schmidt appears to have few worries.
The knock-on effect is an enviable collection of riches and a hefty number of questions over who will feature this weekend and next and in what combinations. Among those imponderables is Sean O’Brien who has yet to return to his best since returning from injury.
Normally when he’s nearing his best, you hear him, you hear him more,” Feek joked. “You hear Sean O’Brien before you see him and that’s when I get excited. I might have to turn up the volume of my ears just to see if I can hear him a bit more this week.
O’Brien’s status as untouchable may or may not be under threat given the competition in the back row but his abilities were franked further by Feek who claimed that he is one of the most prominent names on Kiwi lips when his compatriots quiz him about this Ireland setup. Interest in Schmidt’s Ireland has understandably been piqued back home while All Blacks defence coach Scott McLeod and Highlanders coach Tony Brown have been among the many names across a range of sports who have enjoyed a peek behind the scenes at Carton House in recent years.
“There’s definitely a massive shift, even to the point where I get asked … like, 10/15 years ago they wouldn’t have known too many Irish players. Now they’re constantly asking me if I’m there (in New Zealand) ‘what’s he like?’ ‘what does he lift?’ or ‘what does he do?’ You know?
“People are asking, ‘what’s this players management programme? Why is that so good? Or, why is this so good? How do you manage this?’ So, it’s not just the threat of winning.
“Guys want to come into (Ireland) camp and watch and learn.”
Feek’s part in that shouldn’t be underestimated.