Legendary Ireland midfielder Brian O’Driscoll believes the All Blacks must quickly become brutal with their decision-making and install Joe Schmidt to fix the current mess that has unfolded under Ian Foster. New Zealand surrendered a home Test match series 1-2 to the Irish last weekend in wellington and there has since been much discussion as to how to improve a team that has now lost four of its last five matches on Foster’s watch.
O’Driscoll has now joined the chorus of reflection, reckoning that the only quick-fix available to the All Blacks is to hand Schmidt the reins as the coach rather than having him come in as planned as a selector, or else bring in serial great rugby winner Scott Roberston of the Crusaders.
during an appearance on Wednesday Night Rugby, the Irish Newstalk radio programmeO’Driscoll took a deep dive into what he feels has gone wrong for the All Blacks with just over a year to go to a World Cup in France where Ireland could potentially meet New Zealand in the quarterfinals.
“It is cyclical and there even the great nations like New Zealand can peak and slightly trough with the player quality coming through,” explained O’Driscoll. “I was wondering and my train of thought was if you are looking at them as World Cup quarter-finalists if we lost the third Test match it would have been massively disappointing but it wouldn’t have been the worst thing in the world because that (All Blacks) coaching ticket wasn’t going to change – and this All Blacks team looks at though it’s really struggling, it really does.
“Knowing someone like Joe Schmidt or hearing what Scott Robertson is like and that attention to detail, would they not be the perfect fit to come in and do something in a short period of time? Especially Joe, I know him a lot more. He is made for this situation, this circumstance where their passing quality has been really poor, they are having unforced errors, so un-New Zealand like.
“Whereas all of those aspects, sharpen that up, body contact, accuracy at the ruck, he would get all of that side right and then the knock-on effect of playing their free-flowing game happens organically. It’s not really a New Zealand thing to cut people, to go, ‘Right, panic stations, get someone else in’, so I can understand they are trying to work with Ian Foster. But who knows, in a year, 15 months’ time will it be to their detriment that they haven’t been more brutal with their decision-making and brought in someone that definitely would fix things in a very short space of time? That is the sense I get from either of those two guys (Schmidt and Robertson) – but particularly with Joe.”
O’Driscoll also had plenty to say about some underperforming veteran All Blacks players. “(Brodie) Retallick and (Sam) Whitelock, guys like Sam Canemaybe before recent years would have been big, physical, ferocious players whereas (Caelan) Doris, Peter O’Mahony, our front row all had at least parity with the opposition and won the collision zone an awful lot.
“If you look at the second row, they are absolutely in the winters of their career. Whitelock has been going a decade in the row, a lot of miles on the clock. Retallick is something similar and the reality is that it just takes its toll physically. All those test caps, both of them over a hundred, you just can’t play with that same energy and vitality as a youthful player.
“You might have the same enthusiasm but the body just doesn’t respond to messages being sent from up top. It feels as though that quality has probably slipped a little bit. The front row as well, you think about the Franks brothers, you think about (Tony) Woodcock, that caliber of players.
“Were any of the props real standout performers for New Zealand? Cody Taylor, good in parts. Dane Colesanother one in the winter of his career, I just don’t think there is the ferociousness of their front five like there used to be.
“And then right across the backs, if you look at the best New Zealand teams, four or five of those positions pick themselves before you even have to think about it. Right now, (David) Havili is in and out at twelve, (Richie) Mo’unga had a brilliant Super Rugby campaign but he is on the bench, (Beauden) Barrett is not at his best, (Aaron) Smith is coming into the winter of his career. You have all of these factors on top of maybe not playing with massive confidence in the black jersey.
“They are struggling a bit with what they are trying to do structurally. It was the first time I saw a New Zealand team struggling for ideas. There are multiple factors. Ireland loved putting loads of pressure on them but also this New Zealand team is not picking itself yet which the great New Zealand teams, before you blink, eight of them are on the side whereas now I don’t think you could guarantee eight starters off the top of your head. It’s (Ardie) Savea and 14 others maybe.”
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