Ireland have been knocked out of the World Cup at the quarter-final stage for the seventh time in nine tournaments.
Here, the PA news agency examines how Ireland move forward in light of another major disappointment at the global game’s top challenge.
Where do Ireland go from here?
That’s a familiar question for the Irish, who have found themselves heading home at the quarter-final stage all too often at World Cups. Boss Joe Schmidt was meant to be the man to break that sticking point and insisted he had learned from the pain of the 43-20 loss to Argentina in the last eight in 2015. While Ireland slumped to a hefty defeat to the Pumas without five key players injured and suspended four years ago, this time head coach Schmidt had his full arsenal on display, barring the banned Bundee Aki. But a dismal 2019 became even worse with a record 46-14 World Cup loss at the hands of the sensational All Blacks. So where next? Well, firstly to a new coaching staff and a new captain. Andy Farrell steps up to take the coaching helm, with former England centre Mike Catt joining as attack coach from Italy. John Fogarty will replace Greg Feek as scrum coach, while Simon Easterby stays on as forwards specialist. Captain Rory Best has retired now too, leaving Farrell to deliberate on a new skipper.
Who should captain Ireland now then?
Lock James Ryan would be the prudent long-term choice. The Leinster star has rocketed up the global ranks in the last 18 months, has the temperament and the playing quality – and does not tend to suffer low standards lightly. Ryan would be both a safe pair of hands in public and a taskmaster behind the scenes. Johnny Sexton and Peter O’Mahony have both captained Ireland in Best’s absence in the last few years, but it would be a tall order for either man to push on through to the next World Cup. And so appointing Ryan would allow Ireland to push forward into a new era without delay.
How can Ireland evolve their gameplan?
This will be crucial to Farrell’s reign as head coach. The former dual-code international simply must expand Ireland’s limited approach to gain success in the role. Meticulous coach Schmidt’s gameplan had to be inch-perfect or would fail. For so long Ireland were able to produce exactly what he wanted, and that helped them beat everyone in the world in the last four years. But when it mattered most that poise and exacting, scientific approach deserted them. Schmidt always talked about “forensic” detail, but when that did not work, Ireland had no answers. Schmidt’s team effectively peaked in 2018, and that inability to hit their best in a World Cup year continues to haunt the Irish. Farrell must look to New Zealand’s example of playing deep, fast and wide in order to revolutionise the Irish approach. New Zealand have shown the world that a fly-half can direct a game from deep rather than flat on the gainline, provided there are sufficient playmakers in the wide channels. That means men with vision at outside centre and full-back. This is an approach Ireland never countenanced under Schmidt, but now is the time for change.
Does that mean wholesale playing personnel changes then?
Maybe not. Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton are still Ireland’s premier half-backs for example, and so should continue into the 2020 Six Nations and beyond. Sexton has made no secret of wanting to push on to the 2021 British and Irish Lions tour, but already aged 34 his time is quite clearly limited. The Schmidt era involved an over-reliance on Lions playmakers Murray and Sexton, and that has to change now. Luke McGrath has progressed well with Leinster, while Joey Carbery is shining at Munster. Both those half-backs need to play regular Test rugby to be ready to dominate matches at the next World Cup.