Matt Williams: Inadequate attacking plan costing Ireland dearly

Coaches must change tactics against Scots or a banquet of consequences is inevitable

The business community has only recently discovered what sport has known for over a century. Leadership is an intangible substance, but its absence has a physical effect.

This revelation has created an industry of so-called leadership ‘gurus’ who sell motherhood stories to gullible corporates for large amounts of money.

Sounds like a good gig.

Many of these gurus sprout “miraculous” leadership. It usually focuses on some start-up, run by a couple of “geeks,” who begin their adventure by dragging a desk into their mother’s garage. Wearing their caps back to front, with small spinning propellers on top, they, miraculously, stumble onto a multi-million euro business.

This focus on miraculous leadership goes back to the beginnings of our written history. Moses’s parting of the Red Sea is as serious as miraculous leadership gets.

However, Moses’s use of the brutal truth is rarely as emphasised as the foundation of his leadership.

"People of Israel. If we stay here as Pharos' slaves, every last one of us is going to die. Meet outside the Cairo Post Office at 3am. We are off to the Promised Land."

He grabs our attention and gives clear directions. It’s a compelling message from leadership. Stay and die or follow me to the land of milk and honey.

“Darling, grab the kids. We are out of here.”

The fact that Moses then got his people lost in the desert for 40 years tells us he was a quality leader in a crisis, but his long-term planning was lacking in detail. The counter argument is that by revealing the Ten Commandments he did manage the malcontents in his organisation. Modern HR consultants would consider his style of “my way, or the highway to hell,” less than flexible or inclusive. He did eventually get his mob to the Promised Land so job done and hey, no leader is perfect.

In reality leadership is not obtained by miracles. Like any skill, it is learnt by practice.

A major reason that sports like rugby had their genesis was to teach young people about leadership. For a large part of rugby’s history, teams did not have coaches. The players elected one of their own as captain, then for better or worse, the skipper made the calls. Inevitably, many decisions would be contentious and some just outright wrong.

That was all part of a long-established, intergenerational leadership leaning process. There were many lessons. Firstly, actions do the leaders’ talking, not their words. Now here is the genius element. These young leaders were taught to listen to the feedback from their teammates regarding their leadership.

They had to suck up several large mouthfuls of humility and place their ego into the bottom draw. Then listen and reflect on what their teammates had to say. The feedback experience takes the leader well outside of their comfort zone. It also taught the leader that to recognise personal error is an opportunity to grow and that to change tactics was a powerful leadership tool, not a weakness.

The process is not for “snowflakes”, but neither is leadership.

The great Scottish writer, Robert Louis Stevenson famously said: "Sooner or later, everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences." Be it the balance sheet or the scoreboard, the truth about leadership is that the numbers do not lie.

At Murrayfield, if the numbers do not go Ireland’s way, the banquet of those consequences will tumble into the lap of Ireland’s leadership.

World Rugby rankings have Ireland sliding down a snake to seventh place. A loss at Murrayfield would see them fall behind Scotland into eighth. A position that was inconceivable in November 2018.

Grossly wanting

A lack of effort from the players is not the reason Ireland are declining. The physical commitment and work rate from the Irish players has been world class.

The lack of Irish success sits firmly with poor attacking tactics. Against quality teams, Ireland’s attack has been found grossly wanting. Lost in a desert of huge contact numbers, with a mind-numbing amount of passes, and an inability to create line breaks or offloads.

It is the opposite for Scotland. Gregor Townsend has supplied his players with multiple creative attacking options. The Scots played exemplary rugby to defeat England and they dominated the first 50 minutes against Wales.

It was only Zander Fagerson’s brain-snapping re-enactment of Peter O’Mahony’s red card that catapulted Wales to an unexpected and somewhat undeserved victory.

For the first time in two decades, Scotland have a pack of forwards able to dominate their opponents and backs who can turn a game with their X-factor.

Their fullback, Stuart Hogg, has once again found the courage to back his considerable running skills and has been a real joy to watch.

To deny the obvious improvements in the Scottish performance in three of their four halves would be unjust. Yet after dominating Wales so completely for 50 minutes, the Scots once again managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

We are now treading down that well-worn path of believing Ireland can win because Scotland can self-implode. Ireland have also been the masters of their own decline with enormously inadequate attacking tactics. The Irish coaches need a dose of Moses’s brutal truth and the wisdom of the ancient rugby teachers.

Changing the attacking tactics is not a sign of weakness, it is a strength. If they are not changed defeat is inevitable. There are no miracles here, but a banquet of consequences does await.