For all of us who watched the All Blacks beat Ireland last week, it was a painfully familiar story. Lots of commentators and fans, me included, thought Ireland had a chance. We based this on their form 1 year ago when they deservedly beat every Tier 1 team and deservedly became the #1 ranked team in the world. I was very fortunate to be in Chicago when they beat the All Blacks for the first time in 100+ years, they looked invinsible.
Since then they have fallen from grace, looking one dimensional, predictable, some would even say boring to watch (if you're not an Ireland fan). The question we all asked ourselves is why?
In Joe Smidt Ireland had a first class coach who developed a style of play that was 'different', possession based and 'safe'. It took teams a while to figure them out but figure them out they have!! What next for the new coach? Don't limit changes to professional players, look at our mini / youth structures which is where the battle is being lost and won.
He needs to look at how they do things in England who are, in my view, miles ahead. I visited a typical mini rugby session in England last year and was blown away by the difference in skill level the English kids had compared to kids we coach in Ireland. Its not because those kids are naturally any better, its because they have a better coaching structure. English kids don't tackle until 1-2 yrs after Irish kids. These vital 1-2 yrs are spent enhancing their passing skills and spatial awareness through non-contact designed games. We seen how accurate the English team were, how accurate the All Blacks were, this is no coincidence. Meantime in Ireland, we are caught up in the technical aspects of how to tackle, which takes up a massive portion of a 'once a week' training session. English children tackle when they are a bit bigger, more confident and mature enough to listen and learn the complex techniques that are involved.
English children are constantly feeding up through mini rugby into the schooling system having had a really good grounding in how to see space, how to pass, how to beat an opponent etc. In Ireland, our kids are not given the same opportunity to learn these vital skills at an age when it really matters!!
We need to focus on this 6-12yr old age group and put in the foundations that the kids need to make them more competitive when they grow up. Tag Rugby Club is striving to fill this hole by offering mid-week skills training through non-contact sessions. The results are unsurprising. Kids who come to our midweek training sessions and play contact rugby on a Saturday have better skill sets than those players who just play on a Saturday.