Liam Toland: Le ‘grand plan’ no substitute for attention to detail
Brunel’s non-preparation set to leave scheming Schmidt’s Ireland in the box seat
France head coach Jacques Brunel: I couldn’t help observing his body language; no hint of instruction, no discussion, no overt leadership; just simply sitting there accepting his fate
I heard a “conversation”’ where France head coach Jacques Brunel suggested “you look surprised, Guirado”, to which the French captain Guilhem Guirado responded: “I certainly am, sir. I didn’t realise we had any battle plans.”
“Well, of course we have,” retorted Brunel. “How else do you think the battles are directed?”
Guirado asked: “Our battles are directed, sir?”
“Well, of course they are, Guirado, directed according to the grand plan.”
“Ah,” Guirado finally understood. “Would that be the plan to continue with total slaughter until everyone’s dead except Field Marshal Haig, Lady Haig and their tortoise Alan?”
A cheap shot, but I sat very close to Brunel when he coached Italy in Rome in 2015 as Ireland won 26-3. My attention soon diverted to Brunel – only a few seats away. Aware of his considerable impact, my gaze was one of deep respect, but I couldn’t help observing his body language; no hint of instruction, no discussion, no overt leadership; just simply sitting there accepting his fate. After all, he’d beaten Ireland two years earlier. But now he looked spent.
Is that picture connected to the current Irish picture and performance? Yes, for the respective challenge is as, Albert Einstein put it, “option paralysis”.
And here is the key difference between Sunday’s protagonists: one does no analysis and the other lives by analysis (but worse; Rugby World Cup opposition coaches are analysing too).
The Irish advantage, but disadvantage for Brunel, is the value of the individual is no longer as valuable as the value of the team.
An example of the team-versus-the-individual is stark when “little” Morgan Parra was tasked to cope with England’s kicking strategy. England did to France what they did to Ireland – kick. France looked shellshocked; what, they kick?
And France had no pre-planned strategy to combat this to the extent that Parra was left in acres of grass, alone, vulnerable and fuming (he’s since been dropped). Four times the English stole a box kick as the French receiver was totally exposed. For Jonny May’s third try, Parra was totally isolated. It looked ridiculous.
Do rewatch that try from 28:40 as Owen Farrell launches a speculative kick, 30m out, off a crappy pass. Pause the video, and watch the French shape and, more importantly, their body language as play evolves.
What would you think as the ball sailed over your head when you looked back and saw not world class Rob Kearney but little Morgan Parra? Confident?
What did these French players do to help? Nothing. They, just like me, watched in curiosity.
After Parra’s inevitable spill, watch the subsequent French reaction. Nothing. Yoann Huget makes a lamentable effort, but almost immediately checks his run and gives up. The remaining 14 French players were worse.
I’m angry here as I write from memory. Compare this “team” effort to how England shut down Ireland’s kicking strategy. Each time England escorted the box kick, with big players funnelling in to block any Irish contestables.
There are, however, many French positives since that English game. Damien Penaud is a bright light, ditto Antoine Dupont. And be warned – they are more than capable in the trenches. But here’s my two cents bit regarding professional rugby and Sunday’s challenge.
The system is all important, not the individual – but what happens if/when the system fails? Many modern players are brilliant athletes who work hard and gobble up everything the coach offers and implement exactly on the pitch. But can they adjust on the fly?
Ireland’s recent struggles with fixation of options and imperfect execution will be papered over against France and Wales. Why? Emotional intensity will ensure two massive Irish gain line performances; ditto from the French who may spark but are a woeful modern rugby team. This doesn’t automatically result in Irish wins, but the performances will be vastly improved. For now.
But the Irish environment requires intense, anal exactitude to succeed whereas field sport is rarely that, especially when quality opposition is analysing.
Against Italy, Ireland won 99 per cent of their breakdowns. To casual viewers this is a huge success, but what happens when the Irish ball-carrier (one out) can’t dominate the gain line while making a 99 per cent success rate?
In other words this system relies hugely on statistics, where players like Quinn Roux excelled in Scotland.
France will be vulnerable but emotional too. What happens if Ireland have a 99 per cent success rate but go backwards on Sunday? Can players think for themselves; genuinely contribute to the direction of attack policy, and not as dictated. If not they may still win, but will be very sore on Monday morning.
The French lack unit co-ordination but bristle in other ways, and their analysis and plan with top-end discipline of execution is currently lacking.
Schmidt has monumental attention to detail and a plan, and his players have the discipline to execute (if not; they are jettisoned). Ruck success of 99 per cent looks good, but when battered back by fragile French fatties it’s far from ideal. Get outside Mathieu Bastareaud.
And finally.....16 rugby rowers rotating on one machine on Saturday for our world record attempt for the IRFU Charitable Trust and Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin. Wait for it, we’re all over 40, including legend Jérôme Thion. The plan is for a 500m, 1:25 minute split pace to beat 5 hours, 4 minutes and 46 seconds. Come on and give: https://firstname.lastname@example.org