Tuesday 21 November 2017

Schmidt will learn the lessons from quarter-final exit

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt saw his side knocked out of the World Cup
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt saw his side knocked out of the World Cup

Ireland's quest for a maiden World Cup semi-final will now last at least 32 years.

Centre Robbie Henshaw - pivotal to the 2019 charge - was not even alive for the first two of Ireland's now six quarter-final defeats.

Another last-eight loss churns up a new cycle demanding a comprehensive overhaul.

In August Ireland stormed to third in the world rankings; just two months later Joe Schmidt's men had bowed out of the World Cup with an overall performance only equalling their previous par.

Few sides in the world could cope without titans of the calibre of Paul O'Connell, Peter O'Mahony, Seán O'Brien and Johnny Sexton.

That's what Ireland were forced to do for their quarter-final, and were duly overawed 43-20 by Argentina.

It would be easy to explain away the loss on that absent quartet. Instead it is important to examine the shortfall of a squad that while denuded was not decimated.

Schmidt's decision to promote Jordi Murphy rather than the gritty Donnacha Ryan left Ireland fairly short on tight-game exponents, that the Pumas exposed.

And yet for all the reliance on training work behind the scenes, Schmidt's sharp focus on his frontline stars also threw up several anomalies.

Ireland spent their quarter-final week fighting to have linchpin Sexton fit to start only for Ian Madigan to step in.

Against Argentina however, either Madigan froze, or Ireland had built no backline moves to suit their back-up playmaker. The latter seems more likely, but also puzzling.

Now inimitable captain O'Connell has retired from the Test arena, Ireland's choice of skipper will prove revealing.

Munster flanker O'Mahony can continue O'Connell's leadership style, and at 26 would represent a long-term captaincy choice.

Recruiting a new defence coach will be Schmidt's most pressing concern given the departure to Ulster of the highly-regarded Les Kiss.


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