Irish rugby is in a crisis so the IRFU must develop a new culture from top down
Defeat in Rome should not signal the end of Kidney but the culture that put us there should
A wagon with spoked wheels carries not only grain from place to place; it also carries the brilliant idea of a wagon with spoked wheels from mind to mind.
We have long been guilty of becoming mesmerised by foreign coaches, firstly by their rugby grain (brain) and secondly by their spoked (speaking) wheels. Professional rugby has long since banished the hidden cultures of foreign coaches, primarily because Irish players are far more educated in what it takes to become a European or Grand Slam winner. Hence the massive challenge Rob Penney has with Munster to convince them his way is right. Declan Kidney, likewise.
The mind is a powerful tool and tricks can be played in it. In a crisis the mind must remain increasingly strong. I learned this week how adversity can affect my judgment and sport is no different. Kidney’s judgment has been poor for too long.
Mark Allen highlights in his book Arabs how anthropologists show us that culture is developed, strengthened and, to some extent, defined during adversity. Cyprus, and ourselves are experiencing adversity which will define our people and our culture in years to come. The IRFU no doubt wonder where it all went wrong over the recent past.
The Irish team, drawn from a provincial system, our pride and joy and envy of European rugby is currently stuttering under old age, defection, retirement, injury and an incessant demand for success. A new culture can be developed – Joe Schmidt proved it in his passing game alone; ditto Michael Cheika.
Across the water, Wales have confounded the Six Nations by turning the tide on an awful autumn, managing injuries and a coach’s defection into the Lions to come out on top. Is this culture? I recently bumped into a respected and interesting rugby man where we discussed the Irish capitulation in Twickenham and he forwarded the concept, Virus of the Mind.
Genes are the building blocks of bodies where memes are the building blocks of cultures. Why did it unravel on the pitch in Rome or in Twickenham? Is there a lack of belief in the system? Irish players are very hungry for success as Tommy Bowe’s Bodycheck displayed. Coaches are expected to live ahead of players on the curve and if not the curve will flatline as the Irish one has with Kidney.
Some weeks back with moments left in the game there was much furore when Keith Earls was knocked over by Vincent Debaty right in the French corner. A penalty could have been enough for Ireland. The previous week Earls could have carried the ball in both hands and released Brian O’Driscoll for a certain score, but didn’t and a Scottish team were not killed off when vulnerable. In such margins Test matches are won and lost.