Gregor Paul is a very divisive New Zealand Herald rugby writer. The Scottish born journalist has had some controversial views in the past, including some scathing comments about Johnny Sexton after his World Player of the Year nomination. Paul is someone who has regularly preached the big gap between northern and southern hemisphere rugby, so when his comments about Irish rugby today come across almost complimentary - it's noteworthy.
Paul has some advice for Ireland - in how they need to play, but it was his words of appreciation towards Joe Schmidt's mean that catches the eye:
When all is said and done at this World Cup, the All Blacks will say a little thank you to Ireland for beating France in their final Pool D clash.
Paul's reasoning being that France aren't as good as people think. He probably has a point. Ireland probably gave France too much respect. In the end, the game cost Ireland heavily with huge injuries, and the emotional drain of winning ended Ireland's hopes before the Argentina game even starter. It's Paul's opinion that facing Ireland would have taken a similarly emotional toll on the All Blacks instead of the training hit out that France:
The way the All Blacks saw it, Ireland would have taken them into some tricky spots, kept the outcome in doubt until the last 10 minutes and demanded a reasonably large emotional and physical investment to get the job done.
Paul is very complimentary about Schmidt and Ireland. He compares the Irish gameplan with the New Zealand's - with one key difference. The difference that he thinks is their undoing. The well talked about conservatism. Paul says that it's the conservatism that works well in the Northern hemisphere, and has earned them back to back Six Nations victories - but it doesn't work against the likes of New Zealand, Australia, and evidently Argentina.
It's probably not meant as a jab, but it's hard to not take what Paul says next as such:
Argentina were, probably, about where Ireland are now when they first entered the Rugby Championship in 2012.
The scrummaging power, he says, is about the same - the gameplan is good. He says if Ireland stay the way things are that they'll remain sporadically competitive - sneaking the odd win. But to be truly competitive big changes need to happen, just like the changes Argentina have implemented in the last three years:
Kick less and run more: use the scrum to launch attacking moves rather than as a mechanism to force penalties. Build a counterattack game and largely encourage all players to look for space and not contact as a first instinct.
Argentina have learned how to use the ball – to be the masters of their own destiny by using possession in a way that suits their players. They have learned that to be a genuine threat, they have to be willing to find and create space and then exploit it.
In the old days, they were only willing to keep the ball for long enough to win the chance to kick penalties.
There is a lesson here for Ireland; that they stand now where Argentina did in 2012 with a simple choice to make.
If Ireland want to become a semi-final team, then they have to develop a greater set of attacking skills; more composure to execute those under pressure and adopt a new mindset that says they want to play with the ball, not without it.
Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE