Less than seven weeks after Ireland were humiliatingly bundled out of the World Cup on the back of a record quarter-final defeat, a whole heap of blame has just been deposited at the door of Joe Schmidt.
Just twelve months ago the New Zealander was wildly feted around Ireland. He had just been voted World Rugby’s coach of the year on the back of a calendar year where his team had clinched the Six Nations Grand Slam, won a tour series in Australia and beaten the All Blacks in Dublin.
Now after a chronic World Cup that featured pool defeat to hosts Japan, a limp display against minnows Russia and then a shredding by New Zealand in the quarter-finals, the coach with the once untouchable reputation is now being blamed for his second poor World Cup finish just weeks after voluntarily giving up the job he held since 2013.
In what amounted to a PR buck-passing exercise that ensured IRFU high performance boss David Nucifora and incoming head coach Andy Farrell – Schmidt’s assistant since 2016 – were absolved of blame, Nucifora appeared in front of a selected group of handpicked media to deliver a damning verdict on Schmidt’s World Cup campaign.
The review, which involved Nucifora interviewing coaches and relevant management staff while an independent body spoke with players, identified four key areas for Ireland’s latest calamitous World Cup – failure to evolve the game plan, performance anxiety, poor preparation and a skills deficit.
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These deficiencies were all placed at Schmidt’s door despite Nucifora’s own involvement with the IRFU since 2014 – he even delivered the post-mortem on the 2015 World Cup failure and some of those shortcomings were repeated at RWC 2019 – and Farrell’s position as part of the Schmidt management set-up since the 2016 tour to South Africa.
In media reports about the review that seemingly contained upwards of 50 recommendations following on from RWC 2019, Nucifora, who was handed a contract extension through to 2022 just months before the World Cup failure, said: “Should we have developed our game further? Potentially, yes, with the benefit of hindsight. We pay our coaches for those decisions. They have been good at those for a long period of time.
Ireland promised after 2015 they would not be caught winging it at the 2019 RWC with an inexperienced out-half starting at No10 in a big match in place of Johnny Sexton, but they have not delivered on that aim https://t.co/Y2QThUAiJW
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) September 27, 2019
“We could have gone down that path, but I want to be clear there is no guarantee it would have produced a better result. Should we have armed our players with more tools? In hindsight, we should have but that is easy for me to say that sitting here now… it potentially could have really turned to custard for us. It’s a learning for us in terms of managing the future.”
Farrell, who jarringly has been handed a contract through to the 2023 World Cup despite never before taking charge of a team, is gearing up for his first Six Nations game, the February 1 encounter with Scotland in Dublin.
RugbyPass sifts through the Ireland wreckage following a torrid night in Tokyo, an elimination that was promised would not be repeated after mistakes were identified in 2015https://t.co/VzQ9eGwBIl
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 19, 2019
Rather than agree that Farrell’s capabilities must be questioned after Ireland conceded eight tries in a pre-World Cup embarrassment at the hands of England and then seven tries versus New Zealand at the finals, Nucifora handed Schmidt’s successor a clean slate.
“Why would he be tainted? No, I don’t think he’s been tainted at all. Like anything, you benefit from the experience and, again, it might be harsh and it hurts but the benefit you get from losing, you actually learn more so he has got that benefit and he is now in charge of running the show.”
WATCH: RugbyPass looks back on some of our favourite moments with the fans at the 2019 World Cup in JapanMore News
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