An open letter to Joe Schmidt
Dear Joe Schmidt,
As you well know, the fallout from the recent rugby Autumn internationals had a variety of repercussions for the teams involved. Some enjoyed a wonderful purple patch as they tasted delightful victories, while others suffered harrowing defeats, leaving a sour taste as the year of international rugby drew to a close.
Of course, New Zealand was one such team who had nothing but joy to experience as they ended the season unbeaten after 14 matches. But thanks to you and your squad of players, the Irish people also had something wonderful to celebrate despite losing out so narrowly against the All Blacks.
In the winter months, I believe sport can really give people a huge lift – for me, it can really boost people’s ‘feel good’ factor, and there’s no doubting that your team’s performance did exactly that less than a week ago with your scintillating display of skill, heart and energy. In short, it was a result that’s sure to live long in the memory of every fan who watched on as the events at the Aviva unfolded with poetry and drama – it was a performance to savour.
Granted, you will have rallied your troops following the last-minute loss against Steve Hansen’s men, much like you will have raised their spirits following the disheartening loss against Australia prior to that. And you will have praised them for their terrific, mountainous efforts and their tremendous resilience. And rightly so because they richly deserve every compliment for the way they played against the All Blacks that day, despite the end result.
But with the Six Nations tournament over two months away, how do you plan on protecting, feeding and kindling that win-at-all-costs mentality?
Undoubtedly, you will have studied and charted the fortunes of all of our Six Nations adversaries, and in particular, you and your backroom staff will have one eye on our two big clashes with Scotland and Wales at the beginning of February next year. With no match practice as a unit until then, many would argue that it will surely be difficult to maintain that very driven, high-intensity and compact performance.
Or do you think that the provincial exploits of your players will be enough to keep the flame lit through the winter?
In any sport, the national side is often a bit of an enigma as it’s very difficult to find the right formula for success. With only very concentrated spurts of time together, it’s often very difficult for coaches to find the right chemistry in their squad, and for you, it’s bound to be quite similar. With quite an island-based core group of players to choose from, it can be both a hindrance and a help that rivalries develop between provinces and their players, but it should become a priority to find a way to successfully transform that competition into something healthy and beneficial.
And as daunting as it may seem, it’s up to you to find a way to do just that.
But with such an honour-studded timeline in management, there can’t have been many other names on the wish list of fans before your eventual appointment. The reason? The majority of the fans have faith. And rightly so.
Obviously what goes on in the dressing room and what is written on the tactical whiteboard is something that only you, your assistants and the players have any inkling about, but there is another factor that could really help when the competitive games roll around in a couple of months – the fans.
Honestly, if we are to have any chance of taking home either the Championship trophy or the Triple Crown, it’s vital that we win all of our home matches, something that the Ireland followers at the Aviva Stadium could really help Brian O’ Driscoll, Jonathan Sexton and Rob Kearney to achieve.
Much like the showing against New Zealand towards the end of November, a gutsy, well-drilled performance throughout the Six Nations would really buoy the country at the beginning of the year, and it could provide your men with the platform they need for the rest of the year in the run up to the 2015 World Cup.
Yes, in my opinion, it’s vital that you and your players look back on what they have achieved as well as what they haven’t achieved in order to experience a prosperous and exciting future that will, hopefully, be full of success. Also, they should look to what you have accomplished and what you have yet to conquer in order to help them get by. After all, questions about your ability to manage a national side will continue to linger if Ireland don’t win a trophy with you at the helm.
Using past failures as a cue to kick-start this team into action might well be the missing factor. After all, your loss to Australia was followed by a rip-roaring opening 40 minutes of rugby that blew the best team in the world out of the water. Perhaps that loss was the wake-up call they needed. In short, history can certainly help Ireland’s future; a future we all hope glistens with silverware.
But you and your selection of players should know that they are not alone.
Losing two of the three Autumn matches may not look very good on paper, but it’s hard to imagine many Irish fans ready to turn their back on you any time soon. The truth is, the belief in you is there at this very moment, and a strong showing in 2014 would reinforce that greatly.
The New Zealand match showed that sport can be a light in the dark winter months, illuminating the imagination and setting pulses racing, but it can also but a pep in the step in Spring, something Irish fans could well experience when you go in search of Ireland’s first Six Nations triumph since 2009.
Clearly, you won’t need reminding of the electric atmosphere in the Aviva that day, something that could very much help get your players over the line in the future, literally. And it’s vital that you not only rally the players but also the fans and try your best to ensure them that this is a team that is going places and that your team’s heroics against New Zealand’s finest were more than a mere flash in the pan.
The challenge of the Six Nations should give you ample opportunity to do just that, but in the meantime the intervening months can be used to plan, prepare and iron out the nitty gritty details.