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Matt Williams: Ireland must build on positive rugby of the provinces

Ulster, Munster and Connacht are all following Leinster’s lead in the way they play

Leinster’s Andrew Porter celebrates scoring the second try of the game against Vodacom Bulls with Ross Molony. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/ ©INPHO

Last weekend's rugby was like catching up with old friends. Familiar faces back at familiar places. Landsdowne Road, Thomond Park and Ravenhill were all rocking. The loyal locals were decked out in their colours, as old times were relived and new stories begun.

The rugby community was rejoicing after what had been so unexpectedly lost, was again found. Bums were back on sanitised seats across cherished rugby cathedrals. The flags and scarves were waved as chants and cheers were sung. The people were back with their tribes as the clans reassembled.

The players responded as their body language zinged with the energy that performing in front of your adoring home crowd brings. The actions of the Irish teams yelled back at the crowds “It’s great to be home”.

Andrew Porter and Cian Healy personified the feeling of rebirth across Irish rugby. Porter, a world class tighthead prop moving across to loosehead with his newly blonde streaked hair, scored a try. Healy, the legendary loosehead, successfully came off the bench as a tight head.


Everything was the same but weirdly different.

Finally the spectre of isolation and empty stadiums was banished to rugby’s Hades. Gone from the game, like a communal nuclear microbiological magic sponge. A myth from the distant past, when rugby was dangerous and sex was safe. Then every team across the globe had a magic sponge. It fermented deep inside in a rarely changed bucket of water, dripping with blood, bodily fluids, dirt and god knows what other gooey microbes still unknown to humankind. The magic sponge was shared, mouth to mouth by every man and his dog on the team. The magic part was the water tasted pretty good and nobody died ... that we know of.

Now even the rugby ball has its own sanitary wipe. Safe, hygienically cleansed, socially distanced rugby was back and we all loved it.

Call it rugby DNA or cultural home ground memory, Ulster, Munster and Leinster all played with a style of rugby that declared where they came from.

The rugby from all four provincial teams was positive and entertaining

You did not need to recognise the harp of Tara on the chest of the Leinster players to comprehend it was a Leinster team. Their footwork, offloading and single minded dedication to the running game burned bright with attacking flare. They declared who they are through the way they played. The coaching of Leo Cullen continues to inspire Leinster, who looked slick in attack, but in keeping the Bulls to zero tries, the true depth of Leinster's spirit was once again revealed.

Ulster, Munster and Connacht are all following Leinster’s lead and are playing quality, positive, attacking rugby. This is not a “brand”. It is a philosophy that suits both the creative aspect of Irish culture and it complements the athletic structure of Irish genetics. A fast open game suits Irish players.

The rugby from all four provincial teams was positive and entertaining. Connacht did not win, but that doesn’t mean that they failed. Tactics and outcomes will change match-to-match but the philosophy that powers high quality teams does not deviate and Andy Friend’s excellent leadership will stay the course. He understands that teams who know their “why” will pay almost any price in achieving their “how”.

The “why” for the Irish provincial teams to play positive rugby is because it works and wins games. Irish clubs are highly successful, it’s fun to play and entertaining to watch.

The “how” of playing such high quality, positive running rugby is the coaches task and all four provinces are being coached to an exceptionally high standard.

Last weekend Ulster, Leinster and Munster proved that they understand both their “why” and “how”. They all played with a mindset that their supporters and their opposition have come to expect, which is “Full Metal Jacket” attacking running rugby.

The provincial teams have developed this into a powerful rugby weapon.

New Zealand rugby has the same weapon with a supercharger. Their national team plays with the exact same philosophy as their Super Rugby provincial teams, their Mitre 10 Cup teams and their schools. The Kiwis "why" and "how" starts with their Under-10s and goes all the way to the national team.

The Rugby Championship showed us that two years out from Rugby World Cup 2023 New Zealand are leading the way as usual. The Wallabies are on a surprisingly strong revival trajectory, while the World champion Springboks are wounded and require new strategies.

The "why" for <a class="search" href='javascript:window.parent.actionEventData({$contentId:"7.1213540", $action:"view", $target:"work"})' polopoly:contentid="7.1213540" polopoly:searchtag="tag_location">Ireland</a> is to keep pace with changes developing in the south and to remain highly competitive on the world stage.

In hunting for their “why” and “how” the New Zealanders – and surprisingly the Wallabies – have evolved the game’s attack and moved rugby on from the Neanderthal thinking of the Lions tour.

The Kiwis and Australians have proved that the negative tactics of South Africa can be defeated by strategically attacking individual player weaknesses in their defensive systems. Handre Pollard and Faf de Klerk, have had large targets drawn on their chest. They were attacked, cracks appeared and the space was exploited.

Next month against the Kiwis, the Blossoms and the Pumas, the Irish coaches must follow New Zealanders’ example and emulate their feeder clubs. Leinster, Munster, Ulster and Connacht have the “Why and How” of the running game deep within their culture and the national team should build on this positive skill set.

The "why" for Ireland is to keep pace with changes developing in the south and to remain highly competitive on the world stage.

“How” the national coaches seize the opportunities created by the provinces and provide the players with much needed strategies to produce their own version of “Full Metal Jacket” attack will make fascinating viewing.