We’re living in uncertain times. An era where confusion and polarisation reigns. You see it everywhere. From Trump, to Brexit, to fake news, and everything else in between. Granted, social media exacerbates our sense of the problem. Excessive noise and obnoxiousness online bears no relevance to real life and, in reality, never has done. Yet, for all that much needed perspective, it’s hard to shake that feeling of uneasiness.
This state of disorientation has neat symmetry with the present state of Irish rugby. What a profound difference a year makes. Twelve months ago, Ireland were sitting pretty atop the world rankings, having just (deservedly) beaten the All Blacks in Dublin and genuine contenders for the World Cup. We all know how it unravelled after that. A decisive defeat against a resurgent England in the Six Nations opener set the tone for the rest of the calendar year.
By the time Joe Schmidt’s team rocked up to Japan, it was already in decline; weakened and demoralised by the events of preceding months. The success enjoyed in recent years was unprecedented and the freefall experienced in 2019, equally, like nothing we’ve ever seen before. Seldom has something so accomplished fallen so far, so fast.
In the predictable rush to apportion blame-one of the uglier modern trends-we forget the natural and inevitable order of things. What goes up must come down. And the steeper the rise, the sharper the fall. The chickens certainly came home to roost for Joe Schmidt in the past year, but we’re stupid to forget the glory and greatness that came before. Baby, bathwater and all that.
As successor Andy Farrell gets his plates of meat under the table, there’s no time to reflect, though. As is the way in the Six Nations, the new coach’s team must settle quickly; finding ways to win and also expanding a predictable game plan as it obviously needs to.
Yes, that’s a daunting prospect, but also an exciting one. The ultimate clean slate. The best thing about taking over from a control freak is you get one hell of a chance to put your own stamp on matters.
And Farrell has decisions to make across the piece. The captaincy, game plan, team selection and overall strategy, to name but a few. But that is the price of leadership and the popular coach will relish the prospect. Provincial performances in the Champions Cup re-affirm the wealth and depth of talent pervading Irish rugby.
Leinster are already qualified for the knockout stages, of course, Ulster are almost there, while Munster have some work to do, but should qualify too. Even Connacht have played good stuff in patches. While the success of the provinces has been redemptive, it further hints at what might have been in Japan.
None of that should concern Farrell. His job is to look forward rather than back. Of course, there are lessons to be learned from the World Cup misadventure. Chief among those is moving beyond over reliance on a handful of senior players whose best days were behind them.
Irish rugby bosses must also equip players to handle success and expectation better. It’s easier chasing the pack, of course, than leading the way. Continual evolution is the key. It’s what the All Blacks have excelled at for generations. In all this, fans and administrators alike hope Ireland have found the right man to make the necessary adjustments and lead the charge. We’ll know soon enough!
On the theme of hope, Christmas is a good time for us all to reset. What a great time of year. A time when most of us make that extra effort to be nice to each other and enjoy ourselves. To see hope rather than the stress and worry. In these challenging times, we need such optimism more than ever.
Christmas is a remarkable thing. The festive season has a wonderful ability to unite. I’ve yet to meet an atheist so staunch in their convictions that they don’t celebrate it!
Of course, Christmas means different things to different people. However, whether religious or secular, most of us still get something out of it.
It’s primarily about children, of course (I’ll be spending the holidays marvelling at the excitement of an almost three year old!), but we can all use this time to regenerate.
For what it’s worth, I see Christmas as a time to count blessings. And if that extends to a little charity to our fellow men and women, so much the better!
Merry Christmas everyone. I hope Santa comes and you all have an awesome and healthy 2019!!