Joe Schmidt’s tenure as Ireland head coach did not end in the way he would have desired. All in all, Ireland’s Rugby World Cup campaign was a disappointment. Defeat to hosts Japan in the pool stage meant Ireland progressed as runners-up of Pool A, and were handed a formidable quarter-final opponent in the shape of the All Blacks. They inevitably lost 46-14.
While it was a disappointing way for Schmidt’s reign to end, Ireland now have a chance to start afresh under new head coach Andy Farrell. The 44-year-old has acted as Ireland’s defense coach since 2016. He takes up the head coach mantle ahead of the upcoming Six Nations Championship, with Ireland second-favorites behind England in Six Nations latest odds from Betfair.
There are several challenges that Farrell will have to overcome if Ireland are to hit the heights of their 2018 Grand Slam-winning Six Nations campaign.
Lack of Experience as a Head Coach
This is Farrell’s first role as head coach in his career. While he has spent over a decade coaching among the backroom staff – first for Saracens, then for England, and finally Ireland – the step up to being the main man in charge is a significant one. Expectations are high among Ireland’s supporters, and Farrell will be expected to deliver a strong Six Nations showing straight away.
There will be a whole new set of experiences for him for master. The number of media appearances will be something Farrell is unfamiliar with and he’ll have to learn how to handle the high-pressure environment of press conferences and TV interviews.
Another interesting aspect of Farrell’s appointment, is that he is the father of England captain Owen Farrell. This will add a whole new dimension to the Six Nations match between England and Ireland on the 23rd February. It will be fascinating to see how father and son conduct themselves in the build-up to the match.
Replacing Rory Best as Captain
It was not only Schmidt who made his Ireland farewell at the end of the Rugby World Cup. Captain Rory Best had already announced his retirement months earlier, and so the defeat to New Zealand was also his final match.
Best has been a devoted player for the team over the last five years or so, and he leaves a void in the squad, both in terms of his talents as a hooker and the leadership role he played within the group. Farrell is yet to announce Ireland’s new captain, but it is vital he makes the right choice. Potential candidates include Jonny Sexton and Peter O’Mahony, but whoever takes on the role will have a hard time following the example set by Best in his years as skipper.
Getting the Best Out of Ireland’s Experienced Players
The current Ireland squad offers a blend of youth and experience. Younger players such as Jacob Stockdale and Jordan Larmour have the potential to carry Ireland towards future success, but if the team is to compete for the upcoming Six Nations title, they will need their experienced players to make the charge.
The challenge facing Farrell is to get the most out of players like Sexton, Conor Murray and Rob Kearney. These are players who have achieved Six Nations success in the past, and Farrell’s job is to get Ireland’s old guard on his side with everyone pulling in the same direction. A strong squad so often hinges on the head coach’s relationship with his senior players, and Farrell must instill a sense of togetherness between players and coach.
Farrell may feel that the pressure is off given the fact that England are considered more likely to win the Six Nations. But a good start to his tenure will be vital if Ireland fans are to get on board with him as head coach. He’s proved his coaching talents already at the highest level but now he has to prove he can handle the pressure of being in the number one hot-seat.