Matt Williams: Confidence, momentum and belief are vital this November

Ireland do not have enough quality playmakers on the pitch to match the All Blacks

This November every international rugby coach is striving to gain three great intangibles for his team.

Confidence, momentum and belief.

Players won’t find these “emotional intelligences” by watching Powerpoint presentations or pushing a bar full of weights on a bench press. These qualities can only be captured by winning in that most searing of environments, the international rugby arena.

Across November confidence, momentum and belief will be found, lost, uncovered, enhanced and depleted.


After the drought of inspiration from the Lions and Springboks series, the rugby that was on display during the French summer tour of Australia and the Rugby Championship was like a welcome burst of rain.

While the laws and officiating continue to support negativity and endless stoppages in play, New Zealand, France and the Wallabies were determined to find a way to play a positive game plan. Thoughtful and skilful attacking rugby fought back against that most negative of tactics, a rushing defence.

New Zealand, France and Australia have forced a change in the game because they are playing attacking “high risk, high reward” rugby.

To quote the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Super Bowl winning coach Bruce Arians, “No risk it? No biscuit.”

In the Rugby Championship, the New Zealanders’ and Australians’ running game forced the Springboks to alter the horrid tactics that they displayed against the Lions - a game plan so poor that the Wallabies defeated them twice. The South Africans realised that if they did not change to an expansive game plan against New Zealand they were doomed. In the last game of the Rugby Championship, the South Africans attempted to run the ball.

That is good for rugby.

As always, two years out from an RWC, the New Zealanders are at the head of the class in thinking, planning and executing. Crucially, the Kiwis are selecting a “fist-full” of playmakers across their match day twenty three, who use their considerable skills to exploit space.

New Zealand will play Richie Mo’unga at 10, with Beauden Barrett at full back and Jordie Barrett will be given a free commission to roam. Coach Ian Foster will then spring Damian McKenzie from the bench.

Under Fabien Galthié, France is very similar. In Romain Ntamack, Matthieu Jalibert, and Antoine Hastoy, France have attacking brilliance at ten. Galthié has added the creative, goal kicking Toulouse fullback Thomas Ramos to his squad. Ramos is similar to Beauden Barrett in that he has spent much of rugby life wearing the number ten jersey. France also have the added bonus of being Captained by Antoine Dupont, who is without peer as the best attacking scrumhalf in the world. This is a powerful French team with considerable and impressive depth who are still growing and developing.

Their match against New Zealand in Paris may be a dress rehearsal of the 2023 World Cup Final.

Dave Rennie, the Wallaby coach, would like to create a similar attacking chorus to the French but the Australian elite player pathway, that for generations has produced brilliant creative talents like Mark Ella, Michael Lynagh and Stephen Larkham has almost ground to a halt. The Wallabies are hanging onto the “maturing” Quade Cooper and James O’Connor, while they desperately working to develop Noah Lolesio and Tate McDermott as a halves combination.

To the Wallabies’ great credit, they are attempting to play traditional Australian running rugby, which has brought them praise and support from within Australia. Despite their positive intent and greatly improved performances, without Kurtley Beale at fullback, the Wallabies do not have the multiple quality playmakers required to win a World Cup and currently neither do Ireland.

While Jonny Sexton remains Ireland’s best outhalf, without another high quality playmaker around him Ireland will struggle. This is because the rest of the rugby world knows that with only one playmaker on the field if you can shut down Sexton you will shut down Ireland.

With Bundee Aki, Garry Ringrose and the injured Robbie Henshaw as the long term centres, selecting another playmaker, like Joey Carberry, into the starting fifteen to complement Sexton will require real change. While Hugo Keenan has been excellent at fullback, so far he has not displayed the creative qualities to be classed as a playmaker. Something that Scotland are capable of by doing with Finn Russell at outhalf and Stuart Hogg at full back.

Compared to New Zealand, whose attacking options are supercharged, Ireland’s appear to be in a straight jacket. This November’s games against Japan and Argentina provide Andy Farrell with the perfect window to experiment with playmaker options. Swapping between Sexton and Carberry at ten is not the answer. Ireland needs creative playmakers at 10, 12 or 13, 15 and the bench.

In the last game of the Six Nations against England, Ireland proved that at their best, at home, they are a high quality side. Andy Farrell and Mike Catt have the responsibility to use their powers as selectors to shape Ireland into a world class team well before RWC 2023.

Eddie Jones is a free thinker and like most Australians whose rugby education was formed in the ‘80s and ‘90s, by nature he is anti anything from New Zealand.

If it came from our cousins across “the ditch,” it was treated with the utmost suspicion.

It’s how Australian rugby was wired. If you put the Kiwis up on a pedestal and bow down before that black jersey, they will rip you limb from limb.

Eddie is one of the few coaches who has rejected the New Zealanders’ attacking philosophy of spreading the forwards across the entire width of the field in small “pods.”

Every team that has defeated New Zealand in recent times has done so by playing a game that is not a Kiwi copy. No greater example than the 2019 RWC semi final. In one of rugby’s greatest ever matches, Eddie Jones guided England to play magnificent, unique rugby and defeat a great New Zealand team.

England’s forwards work between the two fifteen metre lines and Eddie has his wingers and fullback continuously changing sides to create and exploit overlaps.

England’s attacking strength is its uniqueness.

In leaving George Ford out of his squad Jones has signalled a change of direction in his attacking plan. If England selects a backline squad that includes Marcus Smith, Owen Farrell, Henry Slade and Max Malins, they will have multiple attacking playmakers.

England’s match against the ‘Boks at Twickenham will reveal if the English attack can reverse the outcome of the 2019 World Cup Final and break down the physicality of the South African defence.

New Zealand remains the “yardstick” against which every team across the globe gauges themselves. Having beaten the Wallabies three times, the Pumas twice and in reality, they were robbed of a two-nil series win over South Africa by some highly questionable refereeing, the Kiwis are without doubt the worlds best.

In the next month Wales, Ireland, Italy and France will all get their chance to step into the ring and take their shot at the Kiwis’ title. Any team that can stand toe to toe with New Zealand and win will be injected with confidence, momentum and belief. The essential qualities for a realistic challenge to lift the William Webb Ellis trophy.

Which teams are capable of grabbing this opportunity will make for fascinating viewing.