Highlanders’ Heroics Should Inspire Ireland to World Cup Glory
Irish Rugby generally has a distant relationship with the Super 15. However, some inspiration can definitely be taken from this season’s outcome.
Otago outfit the Highlanders lifted the Super Rugby trophy last weekend by causing a huge upset against the much favoured Hurricanes. It would be the franchise’s first ever time in doing so, as classy coaching ensured that the absolute maximum was gotten out of what wouldn’t be considered the strongest group of players in the competition. Interestingly, Ireland find themselves in a similar situation to the New Zealand side approaching the World Cup. The Irish will come up against stronger sides just as the Highlanders did in Super Rugby, but the hope stands that perhaps Joe Schmidt and co. can conduct Tony Brown-like genius to upset the rugby world.
Highlanders’ Rise to Glory
This first point discusses the coaching contribution from 2013-2015
Jamie Joseph (Head Coach): Ying
In 2013, the Highlanders would finish their season in a record low position of 14th place. This was their 10th appearance in the bottom half of the table in 12 seasons and there were some very worried fans in Dunedin at the time. Head coach Jamie Joseph hence became under some serious scrutiny as many were in agreement that he had only dug the ‘Landers a deeper hole since his appointment in 2011.
How they could recover from this was simply out of question. Improvement was given little thought as after so many seasons of failure, the Highlanders had cemented themselves with the identity of a second-rate side. The lack of interest given to them outside of Otago was a harsh reality brought upon themselves due to uninspiring performances, and the low squad morale was clear to see each week when the players brought to the field. However, that would all change in a flash as that negative outlook was vanished and a transformation from the lowly ‘Landers to a high flying New Zealand franchise came about following the appointment of just one man.
Tony Brown (Assistant Coach): Yang
A passionate Highlander with a memorable playing career, Brown was announced as Jamie Joseph’s assistant for the 2014 season. Brown is a student of psychology and an intelligent backs coach who has striven at getting the most out of his players in a creative style of play.
Since his appointment there has been an obvious rise in the Highlander’s game which has seen them compete in knockout stage action in both 2014 and 2015. This is a fantastic achievement for the side and a record that stands for his coaching credibility greatly. However, this was no individual job. The balance within the coaching team and squad at the Highlanders has all driven this project to Super Rugby glory. Brown was just the missing ingredient that would be key to unlocking their full potential, but a crucial one at that.
This project that has seen the Highlanders go onto winning the Super Rugby competition of 2015 just shows how effective good coaching can be on a side with decent resources. The final victory over the Hurricanes will be seen as the most satisfying of Tony Brown’s involvement as the Dunedin side tore up the script to outplay the ‘Canes who featured no less than twice as much All Black stars as their visiting rivals. The game will go down as one of the great shocks for the general public but accompanied with desire and the highest quality of training, Highlanders were always looking untouchable at the business end of the season as victories over the Chiefs (2013 champions) and the Waratahs (2014 champions) reminded them of just how far they’d come. Overall, the contrast between the 14th placed finish of 2013 and the unthinkable glory of 2015 has all reflected back on the impact of their trainer Tony Brown. Based on this evidence, could he be the next genius coach waiting to be dusted off? The next Joe Schmidt perhaps?
Inspiration for Ireland
It has been a huge couple of seasons for Irish rugby. After a second last Six Nations finish in 2013, things have only been on the rise,with much credit to the appointment of Joe Schmidt. The New Zealand coach has been the backbone of consecutive Six Nations Championship titles and an unbeaten November Series last year. He has been identified as the worlds greatest coach by many and has brought a good group of players beyond their potential. The All Blacks have been tested to the limit under his reign also and the World Cup now looks like a likely stage for Ireland to cause a few more upsets to southern hemisphere opposition.
Joe Schmidt Effect:
During a dark period under Declan Kidney since the 2011 World Cup, Ireland really struggled to pull together and contest for major competitions each season. However, as pointed out above, our fortunes have really taken a swing for the better. Ireland are currently one of the best organized teams in the world and held the record for the best defense in the Six Nations of this year. With Paul O’Connell as captain, there is on pitch inspiration also but even he knows that securing consecutive Six Nations titles takes something quite special. That something special has to be the work of Joe Schmidt.
Schmidt has sent a sense of security down the spines of each and every individual within the squad. His attention to detail is foreign to anything that any of the players have witnessed before and even the substitutes, now exactlywhat their roles are before each game. In numerous interviews players such as Conor Murray have discussed how he piles on the homework so that everyone understands the duties of the men around them, whether that’s regarding how many milliseconds his box kicks will hang in the air, to whether the time is right for Johnny Sexton to throw an inside ball or not. The resulting confidence gained by such understanding is another ingredient added as a result of the coaches endless work. Something that pushes the team even further when it matters most.
Highlanders assistant Tony Brown has very similar style which has meant that his side have gone the extra mile on occasion too. As you now know, his side came from a dark place to win the Super Rugby, but can Ireland replicate that on a larger scale to take home the Webb Ellis Cup?
What lies ahead of Ireland in England?
Ireland got a generous draw with France being the only real contestant in the group, a side who have fallen dramatically in recent years. If Ireland perform as well as they can, a quarter final against Argentina is imminent. The last time three times the sides met, Ireland came out as convincing victors and will hope that the same result will arise this season. However, if all of this goes to plan a difficult semi is a certainty with England, Australia or Wales, the likely opponents. All of Schmidt’s tactics will have to be on point at this stage as Ireland go in hunt of a memorable victory just like the Highlanders’ semi final triumph over the Waratahs in Sydney. Fortunately, these are all familiar possible opposition to the Irish, and the boys in green will have great assurance having defeated each of them during Joe Schmidt’s era. However, they have also lost to each of them, which has given Schmidt a valuable lesson to learn before cup time. Learning from mistakes is highly important in a World Cup year and the team have shown that they are well capable of doing so, having corrected 2013/2014 failures against Australia and England in the 2014/2015 season. As a result, the nation should be confident of getting the better of whatever comes our way on the road to the World Cup final.
Defeating the Best
Last month, we made a big prediction for the World Cup that you can check out here, which saw Ireland reach the final and play against the All Blacks and that’s the example that will be used for this concluding point, but firstly, please think back to the Highlanders against the Hurricanes. Although the Otago men were the much weaker side with a poorer history, they were the better trained side and were inspired to do their franchise proud. The odds were stacked heavily against them as they failed to beat their rivals during the regular Super Rugby season, however, they would famously shock the ‘Canes to create history when the chips were down.
In Ireland’s case, the task would be just as difficult but the similarities to the Highlanders should give a vote of confidence. The Irish team are under guidance from the best head coach around whom has brought them beyond their history in terms of consistency. In the past, Ireland’s success was based on upsetting the big guns by going out with fire in the bellies and going home with a sense of ecstasy until the following weekend. However, this has changed to a huge degree as Joe Schmidt’s intelligence and work-rate means that they are prepared for every single game. This sort of commitment to the job gets a team results as the Highlanders found, but when the heat is on you need fighting spirit too, something that is engraved in our players history.
Thanks for reading,
Ronan Calvert of Munster Haka