Alan Gaffney: Australia will fear Ireland in three-Test series
Former Munster coach impressed with the strength in depth of Joe Schmidt’s squad
Alan Gaffney: “I just think they are very, very strong and they have got a lot of depth at the present time and full credit to the coaches all over the provinces.” Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Australia will fear Ireland, when they host them in their first ever three-match Test series next year, because of what Joe Schmidt’s side have achieved in the past two years, said former Munster head coach Alan Gaffney.
Gaffney, now coaching in Australia and a household name in Irish rugby after spells with Munster, Leinster and Irish squads from 2000 to 2011, was speaking as the country’s rugby union announced the three games in June 2018 on the visit of President Michael D Higgins to its headquarters in Sydney.
Now the national elites performance coach for Australia, Gaffney cited the Irish victories over Australia, New Zealand, England and South Africa in 2016 – the only team to beat all the top-tier sides – and the country’s performances in the Six Nations as reasons why the Wallabies should be concerned when the two sides face off in Brisbane (June 9th), Melbourne (June 16th) and Sydney (June 23rd)
“To go out and do what they have done; they beat New Zealand, they beat Australia and had a very successful Six Nations – didn’t win it last year but Joe will be obviously looking to turn that around next year and turn the tables on England,” he said.
“I just think they are very, very strong and they have got a lot of depth at the present time and full credit to the coaches all over the provinces.”
He pointed to the strength and depth of the Irish squad and the guidance of coach Schmidt.
“They have done a fantastic job over a long period of time now going through what they once probably termed ‘The Golden Years’ when all those young boys were coming through with Munster and with your O’Driscolls, your D’Arcys, your Hickies,” said Gaffney.
“Beyond this, they have kept producing key players over a long period of time. They have got strength in a lot of positions. Once upon a time in years gone past, it was Ronan playing 10, Ronan playing 10 and Ronan playing 10, and then obviously Johnny came through and there is a lot of depth in every position now.”
He pointed to the continued strength of Leinster, Munster and Ulster and the development of Connacht into a strong force in Irish rugby as complimenting the national side through the hard work of the provinces.
Gaffney said that Australia would be worried about Ireland’s “very strong” forward pack and scrum.
“Depending on what backs they run with, there is a lot of oomph in that back line. They are very solid in the midfield but they have got a lot of skill at the same time,” he said.
Gaffney said his close friend, Anthony “Axel” Foley, the late Munster coach who died suddenly in October 2016 at the age of 42, was in his thoughts this week. He sent Foley’s widow Olive a message on the first anniversary of his death on Monday and she replied.
“She said that he had sent the storm,” Gaffney said, with a smile, referring to Hurricane Ophelia that swept through the province on the same day.
She assured him that one year on she was being comforted by “three things: faith, family and friends”.
The Australian said he became a very close friend to Foley when he moved to Munster.
“We have remained very close friends with the family. When he died 12 months ago, I just had to go back. There was no question. Otherwise I would have been cranky with myself for the rest of my life. Only because he was such a terrific person. It is just such a pity,” he said.
He still pines for Ireland after coaching there for more than a decade.
“I miss Thomond Park enormously; I even miss Donnybrook,” he said, with a laugh. “I do miss Ireland. If I had plenty of money and I was able to spend six months there and six months here, I would.”