Tuesday 12 December 2017

Williams hits out at IRFU over O'Driscoll injury

Ex-Blues boss blames Welfare Programme for rise in knocks

Former Leinster coach Matt Williams has launched a scathing attack on Ireland's strength and conditioning-driven Player Welfare Programme.

Williams believes the programme played a direct part in Brian O'Driscoll's hamstring injury, which has almost certainly ruled him out of Leinster's glamorous visit to Saracens at Wembley next Saturday and jeopardised his involvement in Ireland's November internationals.

"I just have to say I completely disagree with strength and conditioning coaches saying when elite players can and can't play," he said after Leinster's 38-22 win over Racing Metro 92.

"Brian himself was complaining he wasn't playing enough rugby. You have fitness off the field, but you also have match conditioning. Nothing gets you ready to play big games like big games. It puts a strain on your body that no training can replicate.

"All good programmes are athlete-centred and coach-driven. What is going on with the IRFU is for the good of the players. I understand that. But, it is being driven by the strength and conditioning coaches and the sports scientists -- and they would have you not play. They can't figure out that rugby players have to play.

"New Zealand went down this path in 2003 and it backfired. In my experience as a coach, he needed more time on the field. I disagreed with this from the start. I think it is not only a real blow to Leinster, but to Ireland for the November series," he said.

While club captain Leo Cullen and O'Driscoll, most likely, are on the sideline, Leinster coach Joe Schmidt must have a spread of leaders buying into his philosophy on how the game should be played.

He will have to rely on a growing list of emerging leaders within his squad. It is no coincidence he has given three backrow players -- Sean O'Brien, Shane Jennings and Jamie Heaslip -- the privilege of captaining the province this season.

"It is probably not pre-planned. Jamie suggested to me during the week that he was two- out-of-two. He felt, maybe, he would go three-out-of-three and that he would be ideal to lead the team," said Schmidt.

"On a serious note, Sean, Jenno and Jamie bring such a 100pc commitment to the game. They are so effective and efficient in the roles that they play that any one of the three can be a really effective leader for us."

In the end, the sheer power and punch of Racing Metro around the fringes convinced Schmidt that Jennings would have his hands full with his playing role, never mind that of captain.

"I wanted Jenno just to focus on his role, his link with Johnny (Sexton), trying to make sure we got real strength in that area inside 10 with the size of their guys coming around the corner. We wanted to tidy up that area."

Evidently, Leinster are being fast-tracked away from the heavily structured approach developed under Michael Cheika once his first assistant David Knox left Ireland.

Before them, another Australian coach, Gary Ella, had tried to empower Leinster to think their way out of trouble by relying on their wits and their instincts.

It was too much, too soon, for a group of players who had to learn how to win before they could believe in their intuition working in tandem with structure.

Over five years, Leinster moved from a super-exciting force for good to a blunt attacking force whose Magners League and Heineken Cup titles were delivered from a platform of percentage rugby.

Maybe, just maybe, Leinster have reached the point in their professional evolution when they can marry the mentality of winners to the excitement of entertainers.

Leinster finished with the second lowest number of tries (27) at the end of the last Magners League. They have already racked up 10 in five league matches and another five followed in the Metro match on Saturday.


Apparently, Schmidt is also an advocate of the French tendency to make tactical substitutions -- in other words to be pro-active rather than re-active. This must impart trust to the players in his squad, not just his team.

"I am not sure if that is the case. I know with a player like Cian Healy (below), for example, we've got a hell of a lot of confidence in him as a player," said Schmidt.

"He knew he was coming on in the second half and what he needed to bring with him when he appeared. We also know he is such a dynamic player that we want to keep him fresh enough so that he can be explosive when he does enter. He did a great job in the front 60 against Munster and on the back 30 against Racing. We will continue to manage him so that he will give us his best."

At last, tighthead Mike Ross is showing why he was signed from Harlequins and Devin Toner is maturing quickly because they have been given time in play, something they never received under Cheika.

Now, Schmidt's analytical eye will turn towards Saracens and "finding a few chinks in their armour" at Wembley next Saturday, where they will have to survive without Brian O'Driscoll and Leo Cullen. It is just as well that others are stepping up to the plate.

"We are really conscious that we have put ourselves into the pool now," said Schmidt.

"But, it is such a tough pool you can be out of it again very quickly. It is the perfect start in the unperfect pool."

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