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Ex-Ireland player's Farrell versus 'out of whack' Borthwick verdict

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Antonietta Baldassarre/Insidefoto/LightRocket via Getty Images)

An ex-Ireland international has explained why he believes Andy Farrell has been a soaraway success as a Test team head coach compared to the unimpressive start that Steve Borthwick has made as England boss. Both men served their apprenticeships as international level assistant coaches, Farrell working under Stuart Lancaster with England and Joe Schmidt with Ireland before taking charge of the Irish for the 2020 Guinness Six Nations.


Borthwick likewise had a two-country tuition, working under Eddie Jones with Japan and then switching to England before breaking out on his own, leading Leicester to Gallagher Premiership glory last June and then succeeding Jones as the English head coach in December.

While Farrell currently has Ireland on the cusp of clinching a fourth-ever Grand Slam, Borthwick is under immense pressure following the shaky start to his tenure which culminated in last Saturday’s record home defeat at Twickenham, an embarrassing 53-10 loss to a French side that Ireland outgunned 32-19 in a Six Nations classic in Dublin last month.

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Gordon D’Arcy was a 2009 Grand Slam winner with Ireland and he has now compared the very different positions that Farrell and Borthwick – assistant coaching colleagues on the 2017 Lions tour – now find themselves in ahead of this Saturday’s round five Ireland versus England showdown in Dublin.

Asked how big of an impact on Irish rugby Farrell has had since leaving England following the 2015 Rugby World Cup, D’Arcy told ICE36: “It is all about respect. As a former player himself, he holds a lot of respect amongst the Ireland players. He treats them as adults.


“A lot of the players have young families and kids and the hardest part about going away and playing internationally is nine weeks away from your family. There is a balance to it and getting that right is good, but the only way to get that right is to ask people. He seems to have that relationship with players because of the respect he has within the playing group, and he respects them as well which is interesting.

“He brought in some high-level coaches alongside him as well; obviously Paul O’Connell is kind of a similar personality in the sense that he captained his country, he holds a lot of respect and again respects people and understands that it is a two-way street.


“Mike Catt’s rugby IQ is kind of off-the-charts and Simon Easterby – there are an awful lot of similar characteristics across that backroom staff and that reflects into the players. They have created a game plan where you can make mistakes and the paradox is that when you create an environment where players are free to make mistakes, they tend to make fewer. The reason is that they try out different things and see what works.

“It is a hindsight bias to say, ‘England let him go’. I’m not necessarily sure this approach would work with England, even though it works for Ireland. That is why when you look at what Borthwick did for Leicester – and is trying to replicate it with England – you must work out whether it is the right thing or the wrong thing.

“He went into a Leicester squad that was already assembled by Geordan Murphy and he got the credit for a squad that he put together!

“He is probably working out now that head coach at international level is more about the rapport you have with the players than necessarily the tactics. Maybe that is what seems to be out of whack.


“The one thing about Eddie Jones is that he bypasses rapport – he tells you exactly what it is, or he just cuts you out and finds someone more ruthless than you to take your place. That is what worked for England repeatedly, so you must wonder why they needed to make a change this close to the World Cup.”


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Shaylen 3 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

These guys will be utility players Nick it cannot be helped because coaches cannot help themselves. Rassie looks at players like these and sees the ability to cover multiple positions without losing much. It allows the 6-2 or 7-1. He wont change his coaching style or strategy for one player. At provincial level players like these are indispensable. If there is an injury to your starting 12 but your back up 12 is a bit iffy then a coach is going to go with the back up 10 who is gold and who can play a good 12. Damian Willemse for the Springboks is an obvious case, for the Stormers its the same. Dobson plays him at 12 or 15, with Gelant in the team he plays 12 but if Gelant goes down he doesnt go for his back up 15, he just puts Willemse there. With Frawley its the same at international and provincial level. He just slots in wherever. Frans Steyn made a career out of it. He was much maligned though as a youngster as he never fully developed into any role. He then went to Japan and France to decide for himself what kind of player he was, put on muscle and retained his big boot, ran over players and booted the ball long and came back into the Springboks after about 3 years away and was then certain about how he wanted to play the game no matter what position. Coaches cannot help themselves because they only want what is best for their teams and that means putting your most talented players on even if it means you cause them some discomfort. Sometimes players need to decide how they want to play the game and then adapt that to every position and let the coach decide how they want to use them.

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Jon 9 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

I think the main problem here is the structure of both countries make up. They are going to have very similar.. obstacles(not problems). It will just be part of the evolution of their rugby and they’ll need to find a way to make this versatility more advantageous than specialization. I think South Africa are well on the way to that end already, but Ireland are more likely to have a hierarchical approach and move players around the provinces. Ioane is going to be more than good enough to lock up one of those available positions for more than a few years I believe though. Morgan would definitely be a more long term outlook. Sacha to me has the natural footwork of a second five. Not everything is about winning, if a team has 3 players that want to play 10s just give them all a good go even if its to the detriment of everyone, this is also about dreams of the players, not just the fans. This is exactly how it would be in an amateur club setting. Ultimately some players just aren’t suited to any one position. The example was of a guy that had size and speed, enough pace to burn, power to drive, and speed to kick and pass long, but just not much else when it came to actual rugby (that matched it). New Zealand has it’s own example with Jordie Barrett and probably shows what Reece Hodge could have been if the game in Australia had any administration. Despite the bigger abundance of talent in NZ, Jordie was provided with consistent time as a fullback, before being ushered in as a second five. Possibly this was due to his blood, and another might not have been as fortunate, but it is what it was, a complete contrast to how Hodge was used in Australia, were he could have had any position he wanted. When it comes down to it though, much like these young fellas, it will be about what they want, and I think you’ll find they’ll be like Hodge and just want to be as valuable to the team as they can and play wherever. It’s not like 63 International Cap is a hard thing to live with as a result of that decision!

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