Greg Feek relishing his overflow of talented Irish props
Scrum coach says ‘we’re very lucky to have these guys’ after years of scarcity in frontrow
Ireland scrum coach Greg Feek: “When we go up against Argentina we have to make sure everyone is dialled in, 100 per cent.” Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
When Greg Feek first came on board as the National Scrum Coach in 2014, he had already been working with the Leinster and Ireland squad for four seasons and knew the lay of the land. The cupboard of props was, at best, a tad threadbare.
For 15 successive Six Nations up until then, woe betide the Irish scrum had either John Hayes or Mike Ross caught so much as a cold. Fortunately, their durability and longevity matched their abilities, and so in all that time, and 79 Six Nations matches in a row, they were the only two men who wore the Irish number three jersey. They also embraced four World Cups between them.
Now a strong Irish scrum is almost taken as read, and the cupboard is positively overflowing.
Not only has Ross passed on the baton to Tadhg Furlong, who has already outstripped them in becoming a Lions Test tighthead and is bordering on world-class, but John Ryan has emerged from Munster and such is Andrew Porter’s promise that last Saturday Ireland gave a full debut to the 22-year-old, who equipped himself more than adequately against a strong Fijian scrum.
The strength in depth at loosehead is now such that even the Lions’ back-up loosehead lost out to the rejuvenated Cian Healy and David Kilcoyne for the match-day 23 against South Africa. For sure this is in part cyclical, but Feek himself deserves credit as does David Nucifora, in reducing the number of overseas’ props on the provincial books.
“That cupboard will have to get extended very quickly because those guys are big boys you know,” said Feek yesterday. “You talk about depth at 10 and 9 and all these positions, it is something that takes time and needs focus and we’re very lucky to have these guys knocking on the door. And you’ve got to treat that with respect because you know that they will make the most of it, but also what comes of that is competition.”
Feek also stressed that the performance of any given tighthead, for example, hinges to a large degree on the rest of the pack working as a collective, which he felt was achieved last Saturday.
“No one is going to go in there to look good on their own and when a loosehead or a lock comes in to our group, a hooker or whoever it is, they have to understand what it takes for that to happen. And so someone like Porter or Killer [Kilcoyne], who has been in and out of our environment for a few years now, they understand that if they come in and perform well individually, but don’t slot into what we need as a whole, then that won’t be enough.”
Nowadays, a strong Irish scrum is taken as read, and while their bajada scrum [in which the power came through the middle] was a famed weapon in the Pumas’ armoury, their de-powered scrum buckled and conceded six points in Florence last Saturday.
“I think it’s still dangerous, especially with the captain and the hooker, he plays pretty much most of their games,” said Feek in reference to Agustin Creevy. “I think [Ramiro] Herrera is out injured but [Nahuel Tetaz] Chaparro is really tough as well, and they have some really good young tightheads coming through on the recent tour of England and they’re here now.
“I think they have big secondrows and you know that if you switch off, or one of those collectives that we’ve talked about is not dialled in, then that could make Tadhg look bad, or someone else that was causing that as well.
“But I sometimes reference scrums to referred pain, you might get a pain in your hamstring but it’s coming from your lower back and in the scrum it’s quite similar, when there’s an issue somewhere the cause could be coming from somewhere else. So when we go up against Argentina we have to make sure everyone is dialled in, 100 per cent.”
As an aside, Feek was asked about the possibility of Ronan O’Gara joining the Crusaders’ coaching staff, and ventured: “The Crusaders are a big part of my rugby career and a lot of the coaching stuff I know. The key thing there is it is about people first and foremost.”
“Rog will slide in like a hand in a glove. It is a credit to him that he’s been approached. If you get the right people into the Crusader environment, then that’s a win straight away. In terms of the knowledge you have, that will come and, in terms of how you coach, that will come.
“Players will welcome him in with open arms if he goes there. The only thing he might need is an interpreter,” Feek joked.
“Apart from that, I think he will enjoy it. I got to know him really well in New York. He is a top man. He is just so keen to learn. I forgot I was chatting to a guy who played over 100 Tests for Ireland. He doesn’t have a big ego. If it ends up happening, fair play to him.”