Justin Marshall: Ireland’s great gameplan became predictable

Former All Black says he never saw evolution during build-up or pool stages

It's always interesting to obtain a neutral's perspective on Ireland's World Cup campaign, especially one as articulate as Justin Marshall. The 81-times capped former All Blacks scrum-half was always likely to turn to punditry, and although he gets plenty of grief for it, Marshall is by some distance one of the most balanced as well as informative TV analysts in the Southern Hemisphere.

Not that Marshall’s views on Ireland’s campaign were not damning. Before the tournament he had said the only two teams who could beat the All Blacks were South Africa and England, so in that sense he was not surprised by Ireland’s quarter-final exit.

“I didn’t think they’d evolved,” he said. “I think very much like Wales were tactically, they had a great gameplan that they believed in but it is predictable and it gets analysed.

"They have great players that could implement that gameplan, but when you look at Ireland and where they got to, successfully beating the All Blacks, I felt they needed to create something that the rest of the world hadn't seen and they didn't.

“They came out and played the same gameplan they had been playing, the All Blacks came out and analysed it. They’ve been beaten by it before, and they were aware of what Ireland would bring. and they didn’t bring anything different.

"I hadn't seen any evidence during the build-up to the Rugby World Cup or during the pool stages when Japan knocked them over to show that they had evolved.

"Can I put my finger on it that it was Joe Schmidt. I don't think he's a coach that doesn't want to be creative and doesn't want to evolve. It has to fall back to him thinking that this is what he had to work with, yet this is what he selected, so this is all he can do."

A highly prescriptive gameplan is also easier to analyse, and Marshall highlighted Ireland’s box-kicking game.

"Let's boil this down and think about it. The tactic with Conor Murray kicking etc, that worked so very well two years ago – World Rugby changed the laws so that you had to protect the player in the air.

“All of a sudden the 50/50s that Ireland were winning by kicking and getting the ball back – they weren’t getting it back anymore. Yet they were still doing the same thing. So you’re now kicking the ball back to the opposition instead of kicking it and getting it back.”

Great minds

Yet with Warren Gatland due to return to New Zealand after the best part of 25 years working overseas to coach the Chiefs, Marshall would gladly welcome Schmidt coming home as well.

“I hope so. I’ve always banged the drum that we need great minds in the game in our country. At the moment we don’t have them. If you look across the board around the world, a lot of our minds and coaches are coaching outside New Zealand.

“People will go, ‘why do we want Warren Gatland back?’ but I’m thinking ‘are you serious’?” he said, incredulously. “Here’s a guy that has successfully coached Wales to their best-ever winning record and the British & Irish Lions, and he can come back to our country and tell us exactly what teams do to beat us.

“He can give us all of that information. Why don’t we want to dig into that?” said Marshall citing how opposing teams have made the All Blacks struggle with an outside-in defence.

“Joe is equally the same. He’s done one thing that has never been done in Irish rugby before, he’s beaten the All Blacks, and he’s done it twice! How did you do it, mate? Why did you look at it and think, ‘this is how we beat them.’

“Let’s have that info on our doorstep rather than someone else’s. So hopefully we get all of them back. Bring [Japan head coach] Jamie Joseph in as well!”

As for the All Blacks, their semi-final defeat has raised doubts about the probability of Ian Foster succeeding Steve Hansen, with Scott Robertson's chances having increased.

But Marshall would be averse to scrapping the formula of appointing from within, as was the case when Hansen was promoted to succeed Graham Henry.

“If Ireland had been that successful would you change the coaching format and the environment the players are playing under? If it’s not broken – which it clearly isn’t – why would you need to change it? You’re sitting there with a 90 per cent winning ratio, and you’re thinking of changing the coach and the culture, would you do it?”

No fears

Marshall has no fears that the All Blacks will have plenty of outside backs, although “we’ll be a little bit exposed in the midfield”.

“The other one I’m worried about is that tight five; we’re losing a lot of props and probably going to lose another couple of front-rowers before the next World Cup.

“Our challenge has always been trying to retain our players in New Zealand,” said Marshall, adding: “Super Rugby is going to change next year. How that format affects the depth of players and inspires them is always questionable.

“Look, we’re still not wanting for talent. I think we’ll be okay,” he said before admitting that scrumhalf “is a concern” with Aaron Smith, TJ Perenara and Brad Weber unlikely to be around in four years’ time.

Finally, as it were, looking ahead to the final, Marshall reckons it hinges on England mentally getting back to the same level.

“I was sitting next to Martin Johnson during the game and I said to him after 15 minutes I have not seen an England team ever in my time start and play with that accuracy, pace, tempo and power.

“Any other team in the world would probably have been down 20 points by then; we were lucky it was only what it was. If they can play like that I don’t think South Africa can stay with them.”

Justin Marshall was speaking in his capacity as an ambassador for Land Rover, an official Worldwide Partner of Rugby World Cup 2019. With over 20 years of heritage supporting rugby at all levels, Land Rover is celebrating what makes rugby, rugby. #LandRoverRugby