Subscriber OnlyRugby

Gordon D’Arcy: Farrell’s way of playing will bring Ireland in a new direction

Farrell and Lancaster helping to ensure Ireland have never been in better shape

Clarity is Joe Schmidt’s greatest gift to Irish rugby.

From the very beginning at Leinster, the summer of 2010, there was clarity for each and every player and coach. Clarity about what needs to be done to beat the opposition this week and every other week. Follow these instructions and we'll perform. Learn this method of play and we'll win.

It took us until October to catch on but we got the hang of it and unbelievable success followed.

Now, clarity about Joe's future allows everyone to remain focused on the grandest prize of all: Ireland are hunting the William Webb Ellis.


Monday’s announcement tells us nothing about Joe’s next move in rugby, if there even is a next move. The clarity it does provide is for the next 11 months and Andy Farrell’s role with Ireland thereafter.

The statement indicates that Joe will take a well-earned rest after the World Cup. He will focus on his family in Ireland and New Zealand.

What happens to Stuart Lancaster or what direction he takes this summer will be revealed soon enough. My gut instinct says he won't be part of Farrell's new coaching ticket for the 2020 Six Nations.

What Lancaster has done since 2015 is so rare. I've been well coached by Eddie O'Sullivan, Declan Kidney and Matt Williams but look how difficult each man found it to be rehired in a top position after their international head coaching jobs ended.

Lancaster’s work with Leinster brought him back from what could so easily become permanent exile after what happened at Twickenham three years ago. That’s a remarkable achievement.

Now, he either stays with Leinster, links up with Ireland (again, I’m not convinced) or returns to the Premiership with Bath or another club in order to live closer to home.

Whatever happens, and there’s been enough conjecture, Farrell needs an attack coach. He’ll also need to replace himself with a defensive expert as the evidence before his eyes in Carton House proves the top job requires his full attention.

That Joe Schmidt is stepping away from coaching is an enormous loss to rugby, never mind the Irish national team.

The culture will continue to grow, overseen and cultivated by Farrell.

Coaching reputation

Look where he comes from. Look what he achieved as a player for Wigan and Great Britain. The transfer to rugby union came a little late. At Croke Park in 2007 his 6ft4in, 17-stone body was directly opposite me. I could see his mind ticking over, seeking to create for others, but the body was creaking at that stage and the English pack were getting leathered. He could have been a great player in both codes but he'll have to be satisfied with a coaching reputation that is already recognised globally.

We can't help wondering if and where Joe will reappear when Ireland move on without him

His emotional delivery of information – as we’ve seen in glimpses during the Lions documentary – should ensure Ireland continue to maintain Schmidt standards in 2020 and beyond.

I feel Farrell has been shoehorned into a specialist defensive role by the Rugby League background but he began his coaching education overseeing skills at Saracens. There is plenty more to him than bringing the opposition into the "hurt arena". Granted, that is something his defences have done extremely well in New Zealand, in Chicago, in Paris and Twickenham last season and this past month when denying the All Blacks a try.

Farrell's way of playing will probably bring Ireland in a new direction. Who he appoints as assistants will tell us plenty about how he intends to do that. Johnny Sexton will continue to play an enormous role as quasi-player-coach. There will presumably be one more expert added to the backroom next year with the option of a complete overhaul in the summer of 2021.

We can't help wondering if and where Joe will reappear when Ireland move on without him. Perhaps he'll become the Bobby Fischer of rugby and disappear off the scene entirely or is it more like Pep Guardiola's 12 month sabbatical in New York?

Nobody knows. What’s certain is he’s perfectly entitled to take time away for as long as he wishes.

Is the All Blacks a big enough challenge for Joe Schmidt?

The primary task would be to tailor his message to the greatest team in the history of sport, a team that is expected to win every single game. I think he’d have no difficulty coping with that.

How about the Wallabies, following Michael Cheika once again, and the enormous task facing the ARU? This might whet his appetite. France desperately need to be contenders when hosting the 2023 World Cup. If they cut back the amount of foreigners in the Top 14, and give Joe the access to players he is accustomed to, it might be an appealing job.

Lost of conjecture here and it can’t be helped.

Bring it back to the present tense – where Joe always exists – and the Irish players come into mini-camp over Christmas to read an updated blueprint for the road ahead: Six Nations. Summer prep. Warm-ups.

Scotland. Japan. Russia. Samoa. South Africa or New Zealand.

Chasing scores

We dare not go further until Ireland are listed as World Cup semi-finalists.

In the three tournaments I attended (narrowly missing out in 2003 and 2015) Ireland never looked towards the last four. Not internally anyway. It was never in touching distance. Not even 2011 after beating Australia in Eden Park because we stalled to soak up the enormity of that moment.

Come the quarter-final we never got the chance to dream about a semi-final because Wales had us chasing scores from the opening seconds (it was the same in 2015 against Argentina).

There was never a feeling that Ireland were the best team in the tournament. Leinster players know this feeling from the knockout stages of 2012 and last season. Ireland now carry the same belief.

The task remains enormous but the upward trajectory since 2016 – beating New Zealand twice – promises consistent excellence in Japan.

What's worth remembering between now and the end of the Schmidt era is Joe, Andy Farrell and Stuart Lancaster – the three top coaches in this part of the world at the moment – are on Irish training pitches.

We’ve never been in better shape. Schmidt’s clarity keeps everyone tuned into the task at hand.

What’s next? Champions Cup. Lovely.

Sexton: Global recognition well earned

It was a preseason camp out in Barnhall RFC. Trevor Brennan country.

During a drill, the reserve outhalf kept changing the point of attack, probing for weakness across the defensive line. Ball in two hands, attempting to win every single moment and relentlessly chasing down his pass.

Most people would become bitter after living Johnny's past but each bump on the road became a driving factor in his personal quest for perfection

An AIL regular until very recently, a guy whose professional contract was under review and the same kid that was initially passed over by the academy. He was 23 and running out of time. 10 years later he’s (officially) the best in the world.

We are what we do every single day. In those early seasons Johnny Sexton laced up boots for St Mary’s more than Leinster but, knowing him, every club game was treated like a European final. Imagine how difficult that must have been. Rare is the player who can adopt such an outlook on rugby never mind life. Johnny has embraced the many challenges thrown at him – overblown injury reports, contract negotiations that forced the Paris move and all those late, late hits.

The resilience and fortitude required to be where he exists right now eludes most people. Some players' natural talent ensures the big opportunity gets handed to them on a plate. That's what happened to me (and I promptly spilled the contents all over my bib). Same goes for Jordan Larmour (who is eating up almost every moment).

Johnny earned everything the hard way. Even the Lions coach Warren Gatland refused to endorse him as the starting outhalf ahead of Owen Farrell until they had lost the first Test in New Zealand.

Johnny Sexton was called to the stage in Monaco last Sunday night and with wonderful irony, the angry man on the pitch was hoarse to the point of being rendered speechless.

Most people would become bitter after living Johnny’s past but each bump on the road became a driving factor in his personal quest for perfection. A man fuelled by such intensity does not always learn how to direct his emotions in a productive way yet it never lessened his influence as a leader.

Those early Leinster years, when Michael Cheika rarely strayed from Felipe Contepomi and other 10s, failed to break his spirit. In fact, it moulded him into the player we see now. As the inside centre, whenever "J Sexton" was on the team sheet we knew what would happen: ball in two hands, probing the defensive line, attempting to win every moment.

The old Irish system supported Jonno’s route to being named World Player of the Year for 2018. The All-Ireland League kept him on track for 2009 and all that followed.

The way he plays nowadays is different to the attacking drills in Barnhall. His movement on the ball is more varied, his distribution has evolved even since the 2015 World Cup, how he carries to the line and stalls the pass, daring heavyweight shoulders to hurt him, creates so many great tries (just ask Jacob Stockdale). His kicking game evolved as it needed to, along with an acceptance that sharing the workload makes the team better because it makes Joey Carbery, Conor Murray and Garry Ringrose more rounded players. That's what makes him the best.

Humble, driven, and loyal – Sunday’s global recognition is well earned.