Matt Williams: Ireland must learn from successful teams that beat the All Blacks

Leinster philosophy ringing true as players developed in the province show skillset

Ireland must avoid the mistakes of 2019 and this time kick on to greatness after defeating the All Blacks. Photograph: Alessandro Di Ciommo/Getty Images

Last weekend’s win over New Zealand was simply magnificent.

Andy Farrell, his coaches and his players deserve all the praise coming their way, not just because Ireland won, but because of the style that Ireland played in order to win. Farrell and attack coach Mike Catt have introduced a much needed revolution to Ireland's attacking systems and team selections. Their unrelenting ball in hand, hard running, offloading, attacking play produced a complete domination of New Zealand.

It was a joy to behold.

Last week proved that attacking running rugby must be the fundamental principle underpinning Ireland’s rugby future. The horrid tactics of endless box kicking and stationary ball carriers are dead. You are welcome to join me in dancing a wild jig on the grave.


The most impressive aspect of the Irish performance was the mindset of the Irish players. They believed that they could beat the best in the world by playing a high pace, high skilled game. This attitude forced doubt into Kiwi minds that have rarely experienced doubt before. The New Zealand body language was full of confusion, which was another joy to behold.

I hate to be a “killjoy” but in the midst of all this positivity Irish rugby needs to be cautious. Ireland’s reaction to its last victory over New Zealand in November 2018 must now be viewed as a cautionary tale. Today’s Irish team must immunise itself from being infected with the 2018 “We beat the Kiwis so we are perfect,” syndrome.

Like members of a cult, the entire Irish rugby community lost the run of itself, desperate to believe everything in green would be perpetually “tickety-boo” simply because Ireland defeated New Zealand.

Then in the opening game of the 2019 Six Nations, a forensically planned Eddie Jones empowered England to embarrass Ireland at the Aviva and the Irish attack evaporated.

The roots of Ireland’s loss to Japan at the 2019 World Cup can be traced back to the overconfidence and self-deception created in defeating New Zealand in November 2018.

Perpetual evolution is essential for today’s Irish team and exactly what the team of 2018 did not do.

Ireland are not unique in suffering from the “We beat the Kiwis so we are perfect” syndrome.”

The Pumas registered a magnificent first win over New Zealand in the 2020 Rugby Championship. The Argentinean players performed a heroic display of resilience and physical commitment. Their inspirational coach Mario Ledesma shed tears of pride, as Argentina finally conquered New Zealand.

Since that historic win the Pumas have followed the footsteps of the Irish team of November 2018 and they are now deep in rugby’s Lost Valley.

One victory, even a great one, does not guarantee long-term success.

While Ireland of 2018 and the Pumas of 2020 are examples of what not to do after beating New Zealand, a few great teams from the past can inspire this current Irish team to build on last weeks memorable performance.

Five previous Rugby World Cup winning teams have defeated New Zealand in the twenty-four months prior to lifting the William Webb Ellis Trophy. The Wallabies in 1991 and 1999. England in 2003, then South Africa in 2007 and 2019.

Unlike Ireland in 2018 and Argentina in 2020, who mentally said, “We have beaten New Zealand we are Champions”, these World Cup winners said, “We have beaten New Zealand. Now the hard work begins.”

For last week’s victory to become the foundation upon which Ireland can build long-term success, it is imperative the team continues to develop the national attacking philosophy that Andy Farrell has embraced.

A national philosophy is not driven from the top and forced down onto the teams below. It is the exact opposite. It starts with the schools and juniors and climbs up the pyramid. Andy Farrell has predominately selected players in his starting fifteen who have been developed as elite players under the Leinster philosophy.

This philosophy is committed to running rugby, footwork, leg drive, quality passing and offloading. The national team’s attack is reflecting the skills and knowledge that those players learned in their developing years at Leinster. The essential skills for success at the national level are acquired at schools, junior clubs and provinces.

That is not a criticism of the other provinces nor should it anger them. All of the Irish provinces are playing a very positive, ball in hand style of game. It is a fact that the Leinster system is more mature as it has been in place for a much longer period of time. Quality Munster players such as Tadhg Beirne, Joey Carbery and Andrew Conway are products of that Leinster system.

Andy Farrell deserves great kudos for having the wisdom and courage to adopt this philosophy of play and a bold selection policy that has empowered it. To state the bleeding obvious, the new attack is fun to play, wonderfully entertaining to watch and it humbled the best team in the world.

This Irish team must learn from the many failures of post November 2018 and adopt a growth mindset, that says every day is a learning day and keep evolving their game. If they can, the next seven months will offer Ireland five wonderful opportunities to enhance their powerful attacking philosophy.

Playing France in Paris, England at Twickenham and three summer tests in New Zealand are the challenges this team requires for growth.

There is one other fact that needs mentioning that should provide motivation for Ireland.

The World Cup winning teams of ‘91, ‘99, ‘03, and ‘19 all won a Test match in New Zealand in the two years prior to their World Cup wins. Beating New Zealand at home is an achievement, winning a Test match in “the Land of the Long White Cloud,” places your team into the stratosphere of becoming a serious World Cup contender.

Ireland should take the advice from, the great NFL Defensive end, JJ Watt who said, “Success is never owned, it’s leased. And rent is due every day.”

Ireland must live in the present, grow for the future and put that great New Zealand victory into the past.

On Sunday, the Pumas await and the rent is due.