Feek seeks a better view from his frontrow seat
Ireland’s scrum coach has got recovery from the nightmare of Twickenham and hope for the future on his mind, writes GERRY THORNLEYin Auckland
IRELAND’S LAST outing remains a sore that can never be fully healed. With Mike Ross hampered from the first scrum in Twickenham on St Patrick’s Day and off the pitch from the 36th minute, all but three of England’s points in a 30-9 win originated from their utter dominance of the Irish scrum.
Presumably, too, the All Blacks were watching.
Ireland players and management alike wore haunted expressions after the game, but whereas the players were able to return to the bosom of their provinces and hop back on the bike, the coaches had to live with it for weeks.
For the Leinster and Ireland scrum coach Greg Feek that was a particularly horrendous day.
“We’ve got a group where the Twickenham experience will forever be a memory. A little animal on the shoulder. In that game, I think there were a lot of factors, even when Rossy was on the paddock, he was feeling the heat as well. I think as an eight, we were up against another eight that were just fired up.
“A lot of our stats, not just scrum wise, were quite low that day as well, defensively and ruck time and stuff like that. I dunno if we were flat. I’ve looked at it and you can pull out as much of it technically as you can, but maybe it was because we didn’t get that week off,” ventured Feek, in reference to the rescheduled French game which ensured four games on successive weekends.
“Maybe it was playing all those games in a row. There’s a number of things, how I do things and the players. We’ll have to change it so it doesn’t happen again.
“But saying all that, Rossy is important. I’ve said before about depth and growing other guys not just within our provinces but within the national squad as well. If Declan (Fitzpatrick) gets the opportunity in the next weeks, then that’s great for Irish rugby. Whether he dominates, I dunno, but the experience he’ll get out of it will be massive. especially against Tony Woodcock – 83 Tests, World Cups. He’s done it all.”
The nightmare vista of another Twickenham would undoubtedly revive the IRFU’s proposals for further restrictions on overseas’ talents and with it the clarion call to blame the lack of tightheads solely on the dastardly foreigners.
“I like to look at the positives and the positives are they are there and I’m hoping all the younger (Irish) props around there are learning and suddenly their progress can just go like that,” says Feek, pointing upwards, “when they come on the scene. That’s one benefit from it.
“Obviously playing is helluva important for a tighthead. It does take a good two or three years, I think, to be out there doing it, getting your beans, coming back and saying ‘I won’t do that again’.”
Feek concedes Fitzpatrick’s presence is largely due to John Afoa suffering a four-week suspension after Ulster’s Heineken Cup quarter-final win over Munster. “But in saying that what was John (Afoa) doing when he was off (the pitch)? Having someone with that experience you’d think would have worked alongside him and helped him out. I think Declan impressed in the Edinburgh game and showed what he can do, but that was a credit to the whole eight as well for him to do that.”
In any event, the causes of the bare-looking cupboard of tightheads clearly run deeper into the Irish production line, or rather lack of a production line in this specialist position.
“Exactly, it’s not like they’re falling out of trees at the moment either. You can’t put a 21-year-old out there into Heineken Cup or against a team like the Ospreys, or something like that. You need to be ready to go.
“And it’s like anything, sometimes you have lulls in all positions. You suddenly just think ‘where’s all our number nines gone?’. The All Blacks were concerned two years ago about first-five-eight and half back, now they’re falling out of the air here. And if you can have the luxury of having two brothers like the Franks who can come in and do it then good on you!”
In illustrating his point that there is a global shortage in this specialist position, Feek cites the lack of back-up to Nicolas Mas in France, Dan Cole in England and, especially Adam Jones in Wales.
Feek believes the IRFU’s impending appointment of a full-time scrum chief will help address the problem, and that the academies are developing a production line for the future, citing the Irish under-20 prop Tadhg Furlong and others coming through the ranks. That said, given it’s also a late developing position, he also says there is a key role for the clubs.
That’s for the future. More pressing is Saturday’s rendezvous with the All Blacks and exorcising some of those Twickenham demons. “Yeah, for all the boys who were a part of that – and there’s a lot of them here – you don’t want to experience that too often in your career. And like I said, there was a grieving process for a good couple of days because you put so much into it as coaches and players, and to lose like that was tough.
“It’ll be there for a long time, but again you can’t let that chew away either. You’ve got to get on with what you’re doing and build your confidence back.”